The Brown Creeper is a gentle little bird with a cheerful spirit.
It likes to “creep” and circle up the tree trunk and onto the limbs as it searches for food. Once it climbs up into the middle or top part of the tree, it will fly back down near the base of the same tree, one nearby, or onto a lower limb.
It has a slender, slightly curved bill that allows it to probe into bark crevices, thick carpets of moss, and under lichen. It has stiff tail feathers to brace itself as it forages, similar to woodpeckers. Its diet mainly includes insects, insect larvae, spiders, and spider eggs.
The Brown Creeper has exceptional camouflage. The top half of its body has a beautiful, mottled pattern that resembles dappled sunlight. The Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America says the Brown Creeper is “like a piece of bark come alive.” Its underside is white and relatively concealed, mainly because it hugs close to the tree as it explores.
To help locate this tiny bird, listen for its call and song. The male and female will give call notes to check in with each other. Peterson describes it as “a single high, thin seee, similar to quick three-note call [see-see-see] of Golden-crowned Kinglet.” They have a cheerful song that Peterson interprets as “a high, thin, sibilant see-ti-wee-tu-wee or trees, trees trees, see the trees.” I have also heard fellow bird watchers aptly characterize it as “trees, trees, trees, beautiful trees.” To listen, click here (All About Birds by the Cornell Lab).
They usually build a nest between the tree’s trunk and a piece of peeling bark of a dead or dying tree. The frame of the nest is a layer of twigs and strips of bark. The nest cup consists of materials like finer plant fibers, feathers, and hair. Insect cocoons and spider egg cases hold the nest together and anchor it to the tree.
Brown Creepers are a year-round resident at the arboretum. They can be a little easier to find now that the deciduous trees have mostly lost their leaves, opening up the tree canopy. Small songbirds like to create mixed flocks during the winter, so look for Brown Creepers hanging out with chickadees, Bushtits, and nuthatches.
Nature is an inexhaustible source of wonder. Hope to see you out there.
See more of Bryan’s work here.
Brown Creeper Life History, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Brown_Creeper/lifehistory. Accessed 28 Nov. 2022.
Brown Creeper Sounds, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Brown_Creeper/sounds. Accessed 28 Nov. 2022.
Kaufman, Kenn, et al. Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America. Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
Peterson, Roger Tory, et al. Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. 4th ed, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.