Last Saturday, while out on the afternoon field trip as part of the Lake Erie Raptor Symposium, we were treated to wonderful views of one of our most interesting albeit inconspicuous birds.
Brown Creepers are easy to miss. Most people outside of the birding community have never seen one, I would wager. But creepers can be everywhere. They aren't common nesters in Ohio, but we get plenty in migration, and many overwinter some years. Anyone who hikes regularly in the woods has been in close proximity to a Brown Creeper, to be sure.
To maximize finding these bitty chunks of feathered bark, one must have decent ears and tune in to the high, sibilant tssss sounds uttered by creepers. That's how we first became aware of them last Saturday, and how I've found the vast majority of all creepers that have crossed my path.
To say they are cryptic is an understatement Look up cryptic in the dictionary, and it wouldn't be surprising to see a creeper picture.
A fine trunk of an Eastern Cottonwood, Populus deltoides. Good Brown Creeper foraging substrate, but they aren't overly selective about the timber they work. They'll blend well with nearly anything. See him? Right there - dead center! We attracted this bird in close with skillful imitations, much to the delight of the crowd. Senor Creeper decided to chill for a bit and plastered himself to the bark over our heads for several minutes. A number of our party had not seen one before, or at least this well, so this may have been the most fawned over Brown Creeper on the globe that day.
Same pic, cropped in a bit. Now, I am sure, you can see the bird. The tawny mottling on bark-brown feathers conspire to create the look of lichen-dappled bark, and when a creeper freezes they become nearly invisible. Woe to the insect attempting to hide in the fissures and furrows of the bark. Creepers very systematically and thoroughly poke and probe their way up the tree, probably missing little. Put yourself in their shoes. The perspective must be an interesting one.
Like the stripes on a barber pole, they spirally ascend the tree, working it over. When the summit is reached, or at least a maximum altitude in the eyes of the creeper, they drop. And I do mean drop. Looking just like a dead leaf fluttering to the ground, the bird flutters to the base of a nearby tree and resumes operations.
Here is an outstanding Brown Creeper photo, courtesy of Michael Woodruff and Flickr. Check that slender scimitar of a bill. Perfectly designed for probing bark and extracting insect bounty. Sharp claws and stiff tail feathers complete the package and enable the creeper to live its vertical lifestyle.