What Do Woodpeckers Have to Do with Miniskirts?

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While I was growing up, my dad had to occasionally travel on business and sometimes my mother would accompany him. As soon as her avocado Samsonite luggage was locked shut and they had pulled out of the driveway without a care in the world, I would start my shenanigans. First up would be a trip upstairs and into the bowels of my closet to unearth a black polka dot miniskirt deemed by my mother as too short to wear in public. Being raised with a slew of boys, I basically knew nothing about fashion and still don’t. Back in the day, my only frame of reference was all those variety shows that played on the TV, Laugh In, and Sonny and Cher. I knew that Goldie Hawn looked pretty awesome in her mini and wondered why I couldn’t squeeze my sturdy legs into a tiny piece of fabric disguised as a skirt and look as cool as she did. I did know that skirt lengths went up and down in the 60s and 70s, and that, coupled with getting away with something while my parents were away, felt pretty darned good. I operated with the “What they don’t know won’t hurt them” mantra, and my own children did the same thing, maddeningly.

Folks might be wondering what undulating skirt lengths and polka dots have to do with our local wildlife. But there is a bird who subscribes to the up and down flight pattern, and he really rocks the black polka dot motif in such a way that I think about my clandestine skirt every time I see him. The northern flicker is that bird. He is a handsome member of the woodpecker family. He is less arboreal than his kin folk and is often seen on the grass eating ants with his long-barbed tongue. The flicker is a large bird with a 60s-ish ensemble featuring a vivid polka dot breast and striped back. Combined with yellow under his wings, a white rump and a red crescent on his nape he is quite the stunner. He flies off in an undulating manner, appearing to be in no hurry to get anywhere. The flicker is a cavity nester, and each pair raises one brood of five to eight chicks in a nesting season. He is one of few woodpeckers that migrate, and I can’t help but wonder if the up and down manner of flight is a frustrating way to cover all that ground.

Like most woodpeckers, they like to drum against objects to communicate. One year we had a flicker who was smitten with the gutter outside our bedroom window. His constant drumming brought to life old feelings of being at some Grateful Dead concert complete with an endless rendition of Dark Star. That was a memory I was trying to purge, but the flicker brought it right back. Funny how the memories I am trying to get rid of stay with me, and those I would like to recall often escape me. Go figure! At any rate, I thought back to those concert days and wondered if I was wearing a miniskirt or something that should not have been worn in public. Probably.

But decades later, here I sit reminiscing about short skirts and concerts. I have traded my miniskirt for a house dress, so I look more like Alice on the Brady Bunch than Goldie Hawn. That is no big surprise, but you can bet when I cross paths with the flicker, I am reminded that he is a gift, and so are my memories.

Photo by Joan Heffernan
You can easily identify the yellow-shafted flicker sitting in a tree with its black-barred back and polka dot breast. If moving, watch for a large white rump patch that is visible in flight.

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