Be Your Own Birder

Weekly Bird: Brown Creeper

Despite its name, the brown creeper isn’t a creepy bird at all, though it can seem spooky with its amazing climbing skills, extra-long talons, and superb camouflage. There’s a lot more to love about these charming birds, however!

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper – Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

Brown Creeper Fun Facts
  • The brown creeper (Certhia americana) is a member of the Certhiidae bird family, and to avoid confusion with other birds, is more properly called the American treecreeper. It is the only bird in this family to be found in North America. A flock of brown creepers is called a spiral, after their foraging pattern.
  • Male and female brown creepers look alike, though males have very slightly longer bills. This cannot usually be determined from casual observation, however.
  • These birds are found in forested areas throughout North America, from southern Alaska to Mexico and Central America. They prefer dense forests with large, mature trees, but may be found in more sparsely forested areas in the winter, though most of these birds do not migrate. Very northern or high altitude populations are the most likely to migrate.
  • There are 12-15 subspecies of brown creeper, with slight differences in size, coloration, and song in different populations. Genetic studies may prove that there is actually more than one brown creeper species in North America, and they could be split into separate species in the future.
  • When foraging, brown creepers only move upwards along trees and branches, almost never moving downward, and they generally work in a spiral pattern rather than a straight path. Creepers and nuthatches may be working on the same tree at the same time, only in opposite directions!
  • Like woodpeckers, brown creepers use their stiff tails to balance on tree trunks. They are not closely related to woodpeckers, however.
  • After moving as high as it can go in one tree or along a high branch, a brown creeper will fly to the base of another interesting tree to begin its upward trek again.
  • When it feels threatened, the brown creeper will spread its wings and flatten itself on a tree’s trunk, freezing in place to make the best use of its amazing camouflage. It will hold this position for several minutes, until the threat has passed.
  • The brown creeper’s nest is a hammock-like shape and may be positioned in odd places, such as behind a loose piece of bark, under wooden window shutters, or inside fence posts. Some nests will also have both an entrance (facing down) and an exit (facing up).
  • On the coldest winter nights, small groups of brown creepers will gather together to roost in cozy cavities and share body heat. This tactic helps these birds stay in more northern ranges year-round but still survive dropping temperatures.
  • While feeding in winter, brown creepers will join mixed flocks with chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, and kinglets. Watching for all these birds can help birders locate brown creepers.
  • Brown creepers are regularly studied by wildlife conservationists and wildlife management programs to gauge the health of forest ecosystems, especially to judge the impact of tree diseases or logging operations.
Add the Brown Creeper to Your Life List

These are widespread birds that frequent all types of forests, so long as the trees are large and healthy, though some dead or dying trees are essential for nesting. Tree types with deeply furrowed bark that provides more crevices for insects and easier toeholds for these birds are preferred. They can even be found in more developed forest-like areas such as orchards or parks. Because brown creepers are excellently camouflaged for hiding in plain sight on tree bark, however, it is best to watch for their spiraling motion or listen for their high-pitched, piercing calls to locate these birds. If you are fortunate to live in a forested area with large, mature trees, you may be able to attract brown creepers with suet or peanut butter smeared on trees, or they will visit feeders for sunflower seeds.

Learn More About the Brown Creeper

There are many resources available to help you learn even more about brown creepers…

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper – Photo by David Mitchell

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