Thursday, October 25, 2012

Brown Creeper


Brown Creeper

Last week I went birding with a few friends in the Twin Cities. It was a murky October morning, and despite temperatures in the fifties, the breath of winter was in the air. Birds were scarce and hard to see. Robins quietly rummaged in the oak leaf litter for grubs and worms. Blue Jays were drawn to the acorns. We found Fox, Song, White-throated, and American Tree Sparrows, and a few juncos. And of course chickadees were about, most conspicuously picking through the soft, wispy fluff on dried up weeds. 

Black-capped Chickadee

Migrating songbirds are attracted to chickadee flocks and, sure enough, we picked out Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a Brown Creeper.

Brown Creeper

The creeper was the last new bird of the day—the pièce de résistance of a pleasant morning. Since I’ve taken up photography, the Brown Creeper has been one of my nemesis species—I’ve gotten plenty of photos, but not very good ones. But this creeper was reasonably close and I managed to get at least a couple of clear ones. 

It’s small wonder that I have so much trouble getting pictures. W.M. Tyler wrote in his species account for the Brown Creeper in the Life Histories of North American Birds, “The brown creeper, as he hitches along the bole of a tree, looks like a fragment of detached bark that is 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.” The Brown Creeper bears plumage that camouflages it against tree bark, and its call is so thin and high pitched that many people cannot even hear one a few feet away. Its nest is so inconspicuous, tucked behind a loosened flap of bark, that it took until 1879 for naturalists to find one, even though Brown Creepers nest throughout New England.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creepers spend summer in closed canopy forests with lots of large dead and dying trees for nesting and large living trees for foraging. They use a wider variety of wooded habitats in winter, and you never know where one will turn up during migration. They often appear in my Duluth backyard. I saw my very first one at the Morton Arboretum outside Chicago on December 16, 1975—#113 on my life list. I knew what it was right off the bat because I’d noticed the drawings in my field guide and read about the species’ habit of creeping up a tree and then fluttering to the base of a nearby tree to creep upwards again. I found the real thing even more charming than the description.

When I was a teacher in Madison, Wisconsin, in the late ‘70s, a Brown Creeper crashed into one of the windows on our school, and our maintenance man brought it to me. The bird had a concussion and slightly sprained wing, and so we kept it in the classroom for a couple of days before releasing it in a nearby park. In the same way that creepers spiral up trees in the wild, this one spiraled up children’s pants legs and knee socks, and eagerly took mealworms out of our hands. I was utterly taken with this confiding little bird. When we brought it to my favorite park for release, it didn’t fly off immediately, and when it did, it simply dropped to the base of the nearest tree. We got to watch it spiral up, then drop to another nearby tree and creep up, again and again before it got too far away for us to track. Ever since, whenever I see a Brown Creeper, I think of that bird and the lovely experiences it gave my students and me. This gentle, quiet little bird goes about its life so unobtrusively that I suspect most Americans don’t even know it exists, yet the world is richer for having such treasure.

Brown Creeper

14 comments:

  1. Bonitas fotos del Agateador.Saludos

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  2. I saw my first Brown Creeper in a recent trip to Yosemite, I did get a photo but not near as nice as yours. They blend in to the bark of the trees so well. I hope to have another chance to see and photograph one of these little cuties!

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  3. I enjoyed your story of one of my favorite birds. I saw my first one in the 1970s in a Missouri home yard soon after I started birding. The Brown Creeper was there regularly. In the early 2000s we lived in Maryland 14 years next to the Patuxent Wildlife Area. I always looked forward to seeing the Brown Creeper in the fall. I didn't see it every day, but I would always watch until it moved out of my sight.

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  4. It's amazing how well those creepers blend into the tree. Good catch! I've never seen one before.

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  5. I just spotted a creeper on my suet feeder, it looked exactly like a brown creeper but it was grey. Any ideas?

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    1. I'd need to know where you are to even begin to guess. And I'd need to know a bit about how the bill was shaped--decurved like the creeper's, or straight? Thin or thick? And sold gray or patterned like the creeper?

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    2. I live in Western Missouri I'm not positive whether the bill was straignt or curved, but it was thin, solid gray.

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    3. How was the color different from a White-breasted Nuthatch?

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    4. Laura, I caught another glimpse of the bird again. Its coloring is similar to the White-breasted Nuthatch or a titmouse, but it's not a Nuthatch or Titmouse as I know what they look like. It's definitely some kind of creeper as it climbed upside down on my feeder. It has a thin straight, black beak between ¾” and 1", solid gray on the back and an off white underside, the bird is the same size or maybe slightly smaller than the Brown creeper.

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    5. The trick is that creepers do not climb upside down hardly ever.

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    6. I've looked all over the net, thought that maybe it was a nuthatch. I found a site that had every nuthatch in the world, some came close but none had a long enough beak. Oh well, thanks for trying.

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  6. Hi Laura!
    I came upon your blog while looking for a suet feeder that would keep squirrels out, and didn't recognize your name at first, then it dawned on me..We Love Birds! We sure miss that site and all the wonderful things we learned. Anyway, I've been hearing an unfamiliar bird every morning and by the time I can tell where about the song is coming from the sound stops. That is, until yesterday morning. I heard the sound, and caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye and saw the sweet little Brown Creeper, who has delighted us all spring and summer with those fleeting glimpses as it flitted between the two pine trees at the end of our house. So, I went to All About Birds and listened to the audio of the Brown Creeper, and sure enough, I'd solved the mystery! Anyway, I'm glad I found your blog. Our new home is birds.joy.net. There are a few familiar people there from WLB.

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