The Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) is an inconspicuous and often overlooked member of our local avifauna. This stealthy bird’s speckled brown upperparts camouflage it well, and its high-pitched, quiet call notes hardly call attention to it either.
The creeper is shaped very much like a woodpecker, with a long, stiff tail it uses to prop itself up against the tree trunks it climbs looking for arthropod prey. Its surprisingly quick, agile and zigzagging flight makes a striking contrast with its stiff, stolid posture and methodical movements when on the side of a tree.
Winsor Tyler describes the typical movements of a foraging creeper (Tyler 1948): “The brown creeper, as he hitches along the bole of a tree, looks like a fragment of detached bark …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.”
This subtle bird is found in our area throughout the year, most commonly in winter and migration seasons, where it may be met with almost anywhere with a good number of larger trees, and at these times is often associated with mixed foraging flocks of chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches. In the breeding season creepers are largely confined to wooded swamps, and sometimes mesic woods, especially those with at least some conifers present. The inconspicuous nest, not formally described to science till 1879, is a cup of wood fibers and bark, lined with grasses, hair, lichens, and mosses, set behind a large piece of bark peeling off from the trunk of a dead or dying tree.
In spring and early summer, the male gives his incongruously loud song, a high-pitched jumbled series of notes with a long sibilant introductory sound, sometimes appropriately rendered as ““Seeeee- now you can’t see me.” For most of the year, though, the creeper is most easily found by tracking down its faint call notes, the more easily heard one of which Tyler aptly compares to “the sound made by a small steel chain which, held by the end and let fall, tinkles into a little heap.”
Tyler, W. M. (1948). “Brown Creeper.” In Life histories of North American nuthatches, wrens, thrashers and their allies., edited by A. C. Bent, 56-79. U.S. Natl. Mus. Bull. no. 195.
Photo credit: Brown Creeper (AdobeStock)