Bird of the Week: Brown Creeper

With its long, slender bill and spine-tipped tail, the Brown Creeper is unlikely to be mistaken for any other bird. Cryptic in coloration and secretive by habit, it’s more often not seen at all. The naturalist W.M. Tyler once described the Brown Creeper as resembling “a fragment of detached bark that is defying the law of gravitation by moving upward over the trunk.” These unusual birds, which are the only North American representatives of their family, spend most of their time moving in a spiral up the side of one large tree after another, foraging for arthropods. Once they reach the top, they fly weakly to the base of the next tree and start the process over again, even though all this effort only nets the bird an average of 5-10 calories per day! In fact, creepers are such weak fliers that in most of their range they don’t migrate. Instead, the Brown Creeper is highly adapted for a life spent clinging to the side of a tree: it uses its long bill to probe crevices and cracks in the bark of trees for insects and spiders, and its wide tail to help push it up the side of the tree like a woodpecker. It even nests in a hammock-like nest built into loose flaps of tree bark. While Brown Creepers are difficult to spot even when you’re looking for them, these birds also have very distinctive calls and songs that make them (at least the males) easier to locate.

Compiled by Owen Moorhead. Sources include the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.
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