Dr. Madeline A. Kalbach
Dr. Madeline A. Kalbach
The other day, as I sat on the deck, I spied with my little eye something that is small, brownish above and white underneath. It was creeping up a large alder, and it was blending in so well with the bark that I had to look twice to identify it as a bird. It was a brown creeper, and on further inspection there were three of them creeping up three different alders. Periodically one would fly over to one of the others, but then went back to its tree. Do you suppose it was a case of the grass is always greener? If nothing else, I am sure this was a family outing.
Brown creepers are tiny songbirds whose preference is large, live trees with bark that has deep furrows. The density of insects in these trees is higher than in trees with smooth bark. The attraction of the alder where I first saw the creeper is that it was covered with dense patches of moss, which also must harbor many insects. It dipsy-doodled its way in and around the thickest layers of moss where it was successful finding a tasty meal of insects or their larvae. They are particularly fond of beetles, gnats, plant lice, katydids, spider eggs and bark beetle parasitoids, to name a few of their favorites. Eventually one of the creepers flew to the bottom of a Sitka spruce and proceeded to pick its way through the Sitka’s deep crevices on its hunt for a delicious meal. The creeper uses its spiky tail to balance itself on tree trunks and branches.
Brown creepers are adept at finding insects in cervices because they have long, down-curved bills. They usually begin foraging at the bottom of the tree trunk working their way all the way to near the top. The bird I watched was doing exactly that, and when it came close to the top it flew down in true creeper fashion to the bottom of another tree. The creeper parade then began again in earnest. In winter, brown creepers include a bit of plant material, seeds and suet in their diet. If you put out a suet feeder, you might be lucky enough to attract a brown creeper to your yard.
A little time has passed since I first spied the brown creeper, but it is still coming from time to time to the yard looking for tasty treats. The brown creeper is aptly thought of as a “treecreeper.” When out walking where there are trees with deep crevices or large, thick mossy patches look carefully for this intriguing “treecreeper” as it moves from the bottom up! For sure, you will enjoy its beauty and its feeding antics!