The Brown creeper is a small bird of mature forests, being found year round in the Rockies and Sierras, across southern Canada, and down the Andes of Mexico. In winter they may be found throughout the forested parts of the United States. The Brown creeper is only 5 inches long and less than ½ oz. in weight. It is well camouflaged against dark tree bark with its mottled brown and white plumage, and is easily missed as it actively forages along the trunks of large trees. The belly is white and the rump is rusty colored. The bill is curved for more efficient capture of insect prey found under bark.
Its foraging method is to rapidly “creep” upwards on a tree trunk, hunting for insects on or under the bark, bracing itself against the bark with its tail, similar to the method of woodpeckers. When it reaches the top of the tree it will fly to the base of an adjacent tree and start its upward search again. The preferred old growth forest habitat has led foresters to consider the Brown creeper’s presence an indicator of suitable habitat for wildlife. Forest management relies on such “indicator” species to judge the amount of harvesting disturbance that can be tolerated while still maintaining healthy populations of native wildlife species in public forests.
The female lays 5-6 eggs in a nest which is normally constructed behind loose bark or in a cavity or crevice. After two weeks of incubation, hatched nestlings will fledge after another couple of weeks, with both parents contributing to feeding the nestlings. Brown creepers reportedly expend small amounts of energy in their daily foraging, the daily loss of 4-10 kilocalories enabling them to subsist on a diet of spiders and small insects. They also take some seeds during winter.
The Audubon Society lists the current population as stable throughout the range, with global warming predicted to result in habitat losses primarily in the forests of the Northeast U.S. and Canada. Brown creepers are common breeders and year-round residents in the mountain forests of New Mexico.
Photographed by James Taulman with a Nikon P900 camera in the Cibola National Forest south of Tijeras.