Brown Creeper

This morning was cold, crisp, clear and bright. White frost still lingered in low places, even late in the morning, and the sky was a deep cloudless blue. Birds seemed to be as happy with the good cold weather as I felt, active almost everywhere. As I walked through the neighborhood, I passed Red-headed, Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Brown-headed and White-breasted Nuthatch, Eastern Phoebe, American Goldfinch and House Finch, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhee, one Red-shouldered Hawk that flew across the road low ahead of me, and a small flock of about 60 blackbirds that I felt pretty sure were Rusty Blackbirds, but I could not get close enough to them to be sure.

In a tangled spot on the edge of some woods, several small birds were moving around near the ground. There were titmice, one pretty Ruby-crowned Kinglet with its ruby-red crest raised up, and from across the road, came the clear, mewing calls of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. As I watched the kinglet flit through some bushes, a very small sliver of mottled brown slipped up the trunk of a pine tree. It was partially obscured by the trunks of a couple of other trees, but I held my breath and hoped it wouldn’t fly away – and then it came more clearly into view: a Brown Creeper. It scuttled up the trunk of the thin pine tree from very low near the ground, and worked its way up higher than my head before it flew to another tree, probably not far away, but I couldn’t find it again. It was only in view for two or three minutes, but close and clear during that time.

A Brown Creeper is a tiny jewel of a bird that’s hard to find and rare to see around here, a fragment of the winter woods that’s becoming less and less common as forested land is cleared. It’s a very small, slender bird with a dark brown back, mottled with white and other shades of brown in a way that blends in well with the trunks of trees. It clings very close to the trunk and moves in an insect-like way, so it almost looks like a piece of bark that’s moving. With a long, down-curved bill, it stops to probe under pieces of bark, looking for spiders and small insects. Its stomach is a smooth, creamy white, its legs short, and its long tail helps to brace it on the side of trunks. 

Brown Creepers are only here in this part of Georgia in the winter. They breed mostly in northern forests with large mature trees, but in winter months can be found in a variety of wooded settings. It’s a bird that is seldom seen, even when they are around, in part because it’s so small, quiet, and so well camouflaged, and also because it stays mostly in the woods. But it often travels along with flocks of feeding birds like titmice, chickadees, nuthatches and kinglets, and can be found along the edges of woods like this one today. Its call – which I did not hear this morning – is a high, sibilant tseeet, a delicate, ringing sound, something like a tiny chain falling into a heap.

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