For the Birds: Brown Creeper - The Heads-up Bird

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Brown Creeper
Photo by Doug Parrott

Which bird ”… hitches along the bole of a tree, looks like a fragment of detached bark that is defying the law of gravitation by moving upward over the trunk, and as he flies off to another tree he resembles a little dry leaf blown about by the wind.”   --Naturalist W.M. Tyler

The Brown Creeper hunts its bug meals like no other bird in Washington. It starts at the bottom of large rough-barked trees, spirals up until it reaches the top, then flies back down to the bottom of the next evergreen and starts all over again, prying with its decurved bill for spiders, insects and their eggs, in bark crevices while using its long, spine-tipped tail in tiny woodpecker fashion. Even though their breast and belly are white, they use their large strong claws to keep their underside close to the tree.

Brown Creeper singing
Photo by John Riegsecker

When threatened, they spread their wings and tail, press against the tree and freeze until the danger passes by, usually unable to see them. (Note that the pictures with this article are all taken from an angle showing the belly -- otherwise their camouflage is too effective. Think of a five-and-a-quarter-inch size owl.

Brown Creepers have unusual nests. Their nests are usually built in a crevice formed between bark that has separated from the trunk, found anywhere from two feet to forty feet above the ground. The female builds the nests using insect cocoons and spider eggs cases, which the male helps gather, to stick to the inside of the bark. It may take the female a week to make her nest. Monogamous, both parents feed their 5-6 nestlings, and the male defends their territory by singing.

Brown Creeper collecting insect sacks for nest
Photo by Scott Ramos

Brown Creepers are reasonably common, year-round residents, but can be easily overlooked, especially during the non-breeding season when the males are not singing. You can find them in most of our local forests, except for the coastal rain forests. Here in Washington, look for them going into their nests under hardwood bark, but watch for them spiraling up evergreens, especially Douglas Firs. 

In the winter, Brown Creepers may flock with kinglets, nuthatches, and chickadees, and will often eat suet and maybe some seeds.

If they are with Red-breasted Nuthatches, remember that all nuthatches go down head-first, and Brown Creepers go head-upward.

Now that you know what to look for, maybe you will find some in your own neighborhood.


Anonymous,  January 29, 2013 at 3:05 AM  

We see them in our backyard occasionally.
Jerry Pickard

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