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).
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?
They usually go up but sometimes they go upside down.
The mantle (upper back) feathers are quite fluffy. Click on the photo for a better view!
I consider the Balsam Poplars on the left side of this photo small. “Big ones” are at least twice as big.
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.
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.
A closer look at the cedar’s bark and foliage.
Bird and tree information which was not observed by me was obtained from All About Birds, Birds of North America Online or Wikipedia.