Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) by Sarah McKillip

With winter approaching, I look forward to adding more Brown Creepers to my trip lists. Delicate, Easter-egg sized birds, Brown Creepers are the only tree creepers found in North America. In wintertime, Brown Creepers become more common in Indiana as they migrate south from their northernmost breeding range in Canada, occupying all forms of woodlands. Settling in for the season with woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Brown Creepers require close observation, but can luckily be found in local parks, suburbs, and
various other deciduous habitats with a scattering of mature trees.

So, how do you go about finding a Brown Creeper in your local “patch”? Nature-writer Pete Dunne humorously points out in his Essential Field Guide Companion that the Brown Creeper “never forages on the ground…[it] hitches itself up tree trunks like a hyper-active jerky woodpecker. The whitish flecked-and-brown or grayish brown upperparts replicate sun-dappled bark.” Cornell’s All About Birds website further explains the speckled bird’s curious features and behavior: “The Brown Creeper spends most of its time spiraling up tree trunks in search of
insects. It holds its short legs on either side of its body, with the long, curved claws hooking into the bark, and braces itself with its long, stiff tail. Both feet hop at the same time, making the bird’s head duck after each hop. Because of its specialized anatomy, the Brown Creeper rarely climbs downward: once high in a tree, it flies down to begin a new ascent at the base of a nearby tree.”

Those with acute hearing or good listening skills may also detect the Brown Creeper through its song or call. National Audubon Society’s web page on the Brown Creeper describes the vocalizations as “a high-pitched, lisping tsee; song a tinkling, descending warble.” Dunne mentions a nickname given to the bird, based on the song’s pattern:  “Meadowlark of the Woods.”

And what of the Brown Creeper’s conservation status? According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, “Brown Creeper populations were stable or slightly increased between 1966 and 2015.” Cornell University’s All About Birds website lists the Brown Creeper as a species of low conservation concern. However, Cornell and National Audubon both caution that habitat fragmentation and deforestation is a threat to creepers, destroying their preferred woodland habitats. National Audubon also stresses that climate change is affecting current breeding and wintering ranges, noting the Brown Creeper as a “climate endangered” species.

So the next time you find yourself outside on some chilly winter morning, remember to search for one of these tiny marvels, determinedly making its way up a tree trunk.

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