Brown Creeper

The mild, sunny day was warm enough for lunch on the deck, and though it was very nice to be outside in the open air, the bare gray woods behind our house seemed utterly quiet and empty of birds for most of the time, and almost bleak. Then I heard a very high, sibilant, ringing call, repeated several times, and found a tiny brown-backed bird moving up the trunk of an oak. It was a Brown Creeper.

The very small, slender, delicate-looking Creeper has a deep brown back patterned beautifully in different, mottled shades of brown, and a cream-white breast and belly, and a long, stiff, paler-brown tail, tipped with spines that help support it on the trunk. Its bill is slender and down-curved, used to probe under the bark of trees for insects and other small prey. It clings and moves so close to the trunk of the tree that it almost looks as if it has no legs.

It has become rare for us to see a Creeper here, and this one stayed for 15 minutes or more, going from one tree to another and calling frequently, giving me the unusual luxury of watching it closely for quite a while – the rich dark pattern of its back, contrasting with the smooth, cream-white of the under side, the way it moved, and used its bill and tail.

It flew each time to a spot on a trunk a few feet above the ground, and from there, made its way steadily up and around the trunk in a spiral, until it flew from a high spot on one trunk down to a lower spot on the trunk of another, nearby tree. It didn’t seem to be flying all the way to the bases of most trees, as they sometimes do. It was an unexpected and delightful treat to see, in part because it has become so uncommon here – and in part because its appearance and behavior are unique – quite unlike any other little songbirds here.

Though Brown Creepers often move with feeding flocks of other birds like chickadees, titmice, and downy woodpeckers, as far as I could tell, this one seemed to be almost alone. The only other bird I could see or hear nearby at the time was one Golden-crowned Kinglet in some pines.

Though Brown Creepers are not considered endangered, they have certainly become much less common in our woods here over the past few decades, most likely because woodlands in this area are steadily being lost or greatly fragmented by development.

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