Brown Creeper

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Brown Creepers are fairly common but hard to see. For most of the year, they usually live in forests with large, mature trees. In the winter, some stay put but others move. Of the movers, some migrate nearby, others migrate far, some south and some laterally. They inhabit a wider range of forested habitats during this season and are more likely to be found in suburban wooded areas.

In mid-January, I caught a glimpse of my first Calgary treecreeper in the small wooded area on the south side of Elbow Park Park. It flew out of sight the moment I took my lens cap off! A few more ephemeral sightings followed – in the Mont Royal neighbourhood, in Votier Flats and a little north of Stanley Park. Then one sunny morning, on a camera-less walk, I had the pleasure of watching one fly off a tree and slowly make its way up another. This was near the Riverdale Avenue pedestrian bridge, which crosses the Elbow River and is one of my favourite places to watch Canada Geese, Mallards and a variety of visiting birds. The chatter of black-capped chickadees, downy woodpeckers and nuthatches (red-breasted and white-breasted) drew me to the east side of the bridge. There were so many little birds gleaning and pecking and calling! And then I saw a little piece of bark hop upward. Oo! I came back to this place a few days later with my camera, but there were no birds. Maybe because it was earlier in the morning and colder? February 15th served up a warm, sunny morning so I tried again. Lucky day! I spent half an hour observing and photographing at least two Brown Creepers flying and foraging. There was a brief chase around the base of a large tree trunk, the two birds fluttering in proximity like butterflies. And I heard some high-pitched calls. Most of the trees were Balsam Poplars and most were small (10 to 12 inches in diameter).

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Brown Creepers fly down to the base of a tree, then hop up the trunk in a spiralling or zig-zagging path. Their thin and slightly down-curved bills probe furrows in the bark to catch small insects and spiders. Stiff tail feathers, relatively short legs and long toes are adaptations for upward trunk foraging. The impressively long hind claws provide some backup support when a creeper is not using its tail to prop itself up.

Can you see the little bird in the grass beside the tree?

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Close-up!

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They usually go up but sometimes they go upside down.

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The mantle (upper back) feathers are quite fluffy. Click on the photo for a better view!

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I consider the Balsam Poplars on the left side of this photo small. “Big ones” are at least twice as big.

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Brown Creepers are the only North American species in the genus Certhia. The other Certhian treecreepers live in Europe, Asia and North Africa and all have similar colouring and shapes.

I saw my very first Brown Creeper, among very different trees, on May 23 2015 in Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver. It was creeping up a large Douglas-fir. I didn’t get a photo of the creeper but I did get a few of the tree. Douglas-firs are not true firs which is why some people choose to write the name with a hyphen. The name Douglas-fir refers to a genus of trees that contains six species. Pseudotsuga, the scientific name of this genus, means false hemlock.

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The tree on the left is a Douglas-fir and the tree on the right is a Red Cedar. These are the two most common trees in Vancouver’s old growth and second growth forests.

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A closer look at the cedar’s bark and foliage.

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Bird and tree information which was not observed by me was obtained from All About Birds, Birds of North America Online or Wikipedia.

Certhia americana
Grimpereau amรฉricain

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39 Comments

  1. Thank you so much, the Brown creeper is so beautiful, what an amazing curved beak and such wonderful plumage, don’t think they come as far as the UK. We have tree creeper that are very similar.

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    1. Thank you for your lovely comment Judith :-). Do you see tree creepers much in your area? From what I’ve read, the UK tree creepers are closely related to the North American ones genetically. They evolved from the same tree creeping ancestor.

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      1. Yes I do. I’m lucky enough to live on the edge of woodland so I often see the UK version of your brown creeper. Very similar but the colouring is slightly different and I don’t think ours have such a curved beak, thanks again

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        1. Sounds like you live in bird-pretty place :-). I looked up some photos of Common Treecreepers and their beaks do appear somewhat shorter and less curved. Good observation!

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  2. Hooray for persistence paying off! Birds are like kids…did we discuss this already? If you have a camera, they will never pose or act cute for you. ๐Ÿ˜€ We very rarely see these so I love your photos extra much (is that a real phrase, “extra much”?)!

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    1. I think ‘extra much’ is that extra touch above ‘very much’. Thanks extra much for your creeper photo appreciation ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ! Sometimes I think birds know that my big, scary, black camera will suck a little piece of their soul out if I aim it at them and hit the shutter button. I’m a touch sad that the chase didn’t last longer. The insatiable longing is gone! Luckily, I’ve transferred it to another bird.

      I think some kids are poser kids and others aren’t. An invisible camera would be handy for the non-posers.

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      1. Heehee…I think you’re totally on to something there… ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  3. I just saw a pair of Brown creepers in Central Park today. Another of my favorite birds

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    1. Oh yay :-)! Did you take a photo? The blue jay photograph you posted today is wonderful!

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  4. What a beauty the brown creeper is. Your photography is phenomenal, thank you for sharing Myriam.

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    1. Thank you Sharon :-). I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos. I felt lucky to see them, have a camera with lots of optical zoom and have nice morning light. Their brown and grey and white details are pretty darling.

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  5. Have never seen a creeper and I’m looking!! What’s clear to me from this post is that am CLEARLY in the wrong habitat. Those trees…I am drawn to them. Great post.

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    1. Thanks Shannon :-). Big trees are quite attractive! Don’t you have a woodland with mature trees on your property and a beautiful river?

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  6. What a darling! Your photos are so great, Myriam! I’m inspired to go out and look for one now. I just checked its range and it appears it is here only in winter, which explains why I never see it.

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    1. Thanks Melissa :-). I hope you see one or a few. I find they usually appear when I’m in or next to a forested area where other woodland birds like to hang out. Any luck with the pelicans?

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      1. Not yet, but I’m going out today ๐Ÿ™‚

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  7. Great series, and lovely little bird! It would a “lifer” for me. I’ve not seen one. I hope I do now!

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    1. Thanks Deborah :-)! I was very excited to get some photos of this bird which I rarely see. Have you seen photographs of Brown Creepers near where you live?

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      1. I read a report on a local bird forum that someone had seen one. I may have to see if it’s still around during the week-end and maybe try to find it.

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        1. Happy searching :-)! Hope you find one or a few…

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  8. Oh how I love creepers! I can watch them for a very long time, fluttering up and down the trees, blending in so incredibly to the bark. You did a great job of featuring this beautiful bird, here, Myriam — great post!

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    1. Thanks Jet :-). I’m so glad you enjoyed my creeper post and that you’ve had some lovely experiences watching them. It is a joyful treat to watch them flutter and spiral in a copse of trees!

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  9. Great captures of these dear little birds. Illusive and shy, your perseverance paid off nicely!
    I love the northern cedars – such a beautiful tree.

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    1. Thanks Eliza :-). I’m quite pleased that they gave me an opportunity to get to know them a little better! Mmm… big cedars. One of the good things about Pacific Northwest rain. Do you have a Weeping Alaskan Cedar? You posted a beautiful photo of part of a tree with snow falling on it on Feb. 9 that makes me think of a weeping cedar.

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      1. That is a golden thread-leaf cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera) – a tough and pretty common landscape plant.
        In December, florists carry weeping cedars boughs for sale – they are so beautiful to me!

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        1. Thanks for the information Eliza. Such a pretty name! And I just found out that there are no true cedars in North America. All the trees I thought were cedars are cypresses. And I learned that the “red cedar’s” scientific name is Thuja plicata. I’m sure you know all this already. I just wanted to say thanks for pointing me in the right direction ๐Ÿ™‚ !

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          1. You’re welcome! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  10. Pretty cool bird!

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  11. It looks really great where you live. Lovely photos especially of the snow and of course the creeper.

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  12. Yes, Calgary does have some lovely natural spaces to spend time in ๐Ÿ™‚ . And Vancouver did too… with different vegetation. Calgary has great snow – dry, fluffy and not too plentiful! Your adventure in a Beijing supermarket was quite entertaining. Looking forward to reading more of your observations while traveling and working in China.

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  13. What a lovely fellow! :O Like little fluffy ball with the long beak. I’m glad you had the chance to see them.

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    1. I saw them a few times this winter too (but pretty rarely), walking home from school. Always on sunny days. It would make me smile to see them dancing up tree trunks. Knowing what they look like in detail added to the experience of the just seeing them for a few moments with my naked eyes. I’m happy you enjoyed his beautiful, fluffy feathers and marvelously curved beak! ๐Ÿ™‚

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      1. You have mentioned school in some of your posts too, but I haven’t ask you what is exactly what you study?
        Something about birds? ๐Ÿ™‚

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        1. Hi Hanna :-). Sorry for my super late reply. I was taking some undergraduate classes at the University of Calgary towards a degree in Ecology. I’m hoping to do a Master’s degree in the future, if I can take the other Ecology courses I need at the university in Edmonton. It would be cool to study birds for a Master’s degree but I’m flexible… plants and other animals are fascinating too.

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