ⓘ Brown creeper

Brown creeper

ⓘ Brown creeper

For the similarly named Australian bird see Brown treecreeper. For the similarly named New Zealand bird see Brown creeper New Zealand.

The brown creeper, also known as the American treecreeper, is a small songbird, the only North American member of the treecreeper family Certhiidae.


1. Description

Adults are brown on the upper parts with light spotting, resembling a piece of tree bark, with white underparts. They have a long thin bill with a slight downward curve and a long stiff tail used for support as the bird creeps upwards. The male creeper has a slightly larger bill than the female. The brown creeper is 11.7–13.5 cm 4.6–5.3 in long.

Its voice includes single very high pitched, short, often insistent, piercing calls; see, or swee. The song often has a cadence like; pee willow wee or see tidle swee, with notes similar to the calls.


2. Distribution, habitat and range

Their breeding habitat is mature forests, especially conifers, in Canada, Alaska and the northeastern and western United States. They are permanent residents through much of their range; many northern birds migrate farther south to the United States. Brown creeper has occurred as a vagrant to Bermuda and Central Americas mountains in Guatemala, Honduras and the northern cordillera of El Salvador. As a migratory species with a northern range, this species is a conceivable vagrant to western Europe. However, it is intermediate in its characteristics between common treecreeper and short-toed treecreeper, and has sometimes in the past been considered a subspecies of the former, although its closest relative seems to be the latter Tietze et al., 2006. Since the two European treecreepers are themselves among the most difficult species on that continent to distinguish from each other, a brown creeper would probably not even be suspected, other than on a treeless western island, and would be difficult to verify even then.

Brown Creepers prefer mature, moist, coniferous forests or mixed coniferous/deciduous forests. They are found in drier forests as well, including Engelman Spruce and larch forest in eastern Washington. They generally avoid the rainforest of the outer coast. While they generally nest in hardwoods, conifers are preferred for foraging.


3. Subspecies

  • Brown Creeper C.a. montana
  • Brown Creeper C.a. phillipsi
  • Brown Creeper C.a. occidentalis
  • Brown Creeper C.a. zelotes
  • Brown Creeper C.a. nigrescens
  • Brown Creeper C.a. americana
  • Northern Group
  • Brown Creeper C.a. stewarti
  • Brown Creeper C.a. leucosticta
  • Brown Creeper C.a. alascensis
  • Brown Creeper C.a. jaliscensis
  • Honduran Brown Creeper C.a. extima
  • Brown Creeper C.a. alticola
  • Guatemalan Brown Creeper C.a. pernigra
  • Brown Creeper C.a. guerrerensis
  • Southern Group
  • Mexican Brown Creeper C.a. albescens

4. Conservation status

As with many of Washingtons birds, the Cascades divide this species into two subspecies. The species has declined in much of North America but appears to be doing well in Washington, with a small not significant increase on the states breeding bird survey since 1966.

In Wyoming, C. americana has been recognized as preferring habitat within large, intact and mature stands of spruces, firs, or lodgepole pine. It is therefore potentially vulnerable to logging, climate change, or replacement of those tree species by Ponderosa pine. However, it is not considered a species of serious concern in that state.


5. Behaviour

They forage on tree trunks and branches, typically spiraling upwards from the bottom of a tree trunk, and then flying down to the bottom of another tree. They creep slowly with their body flattened against the bark, probing with their beak for insects. They will rarely feed on the ground. They mainly eat small arthropods found in the bark, but sometimes they will eat seeds in winter.


6. Breeding

Breeding season typically begins in April. The female will make a partial cup nest either under a piece of bark partially detached from the tree, or in a tree cavity. It will lay 3–7 eggs, and incubation lasts approximately two weeks. Both of the parents help feed the chicks.

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