Brown Creeper

After a long stretch of warm, sunny, very dry days, it felt like a luxury to wake up this morning to the sound of soft rain falling through the leaves of the oaks. It wasn’t much rain, but was welcome, and was followed by a slightly cooler and breezy day of cloud-screened sunlight.

When I stepped out onto the front porch mid-morning, the sky was still cloudy, the light gray. A Brown-headed Nuthatch flew from one of the feeders up into the trees, a Carolina Wren sang from the edge of the woods, Golden-crowned Kinglets whispered their high, crisp ti-ti-ti and Chickadees and Titmice chattered nearby. But the surprise of the morning was a very small, solitary bird on the trunk of a water oak beside one of the feeders – a Brown Creeper.

A tiny bird that clings close to the bark of a tree in an almost insect-like way, it crept around the trunk, moving upward in a spiral pattern, in and out of view, then flew back down to the lowest part of the trunk of the same tree and began creeping up it again, probing the bark with a thin down-curved bill, searching for small insects and other prey. Exquisitely patterned in shades of dark brown and white on the back, with a cream-white throat and breast, a Brown Creeper moves quietly and usually alone, at least not with other Creepers – though it often travels with a feeding flock of other small birds.

This one didn’t stay long enough for me to watch it more than a minute or two, but it was a pretty nice way to start the day. I seldom see one. Brown Creepers are inconspicuous at all times – small and quiet and blending in well with the trunks of the trees where they forage. Though their populations are not declining overall, there is concern for their future, especially in some areas, because of loss and degradation of the habitat they prefer – old-growth forests with mature live trees for foraging and dead or dying trees for nest sites. In our own neighborhood – where we see them only in the fall and winter – I’ve found them less often over the past few years, as suburban development has replaced more of the surrounding woodlands.

So it feels special whenever I see one, a rare glimpse into a part of the usually hidden or unnoticed life of these woods all around us.

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