Brown Creeper Story

There is a novel member of the bird kingdom who blends in so perfectly to its environment that few non-birders know about it. I am happy to share a recent encounter.

The brown creeper is relatively small, and is almost always found on trees. They are a woodland songbird. The bird’s back is primarily black and brown with textured patterning, and it camouflages into the tree bark so remarkably that seeing it is nearly impossible.

An insect-eating bird, they have a slender decurved bill perfect for digging into tree bark and plucking out beetles, aphids, caterpillars, ants, spiders and others.

More Brown Creeper info – allaboutbirds.org

Much like a nuthatch, they make their way up a tree in a spiral pattern, then flutter back to the bottom of the next tree and repeat the same spiraling hunt. The fluttering moment is usually the only time you really see them. They use their stiff tails for support and are consequently adept at foraging upside down.

They have a sound too, but it is very high-pitched and often muted by louder creatures. Click here to hear.

One day last month, Athena and I hiked through the forest on our morning walk. It was nesting time in the forest.

That morning we had already checked on the raven nest, the bluebird nest, and the Pacific-slope flycatcher nest.

While Athena was photographing, I noticed some unusual brown creeper behavior and my eyes followed an adult going to an obscure crack in the bark of a California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica) tree.

Then she vanished into the crack.

In that moment I heard the characteristic sound of hungry cheeping nestlings being fed, and knew I had found a creeper nest.

We watched a few minutes more and realized the nest was safely wedged behind the bark of this towering bay tree.

For days we watched the nest, and each new day the voices of the nestlings became stronger. Visions of new creepers danced in our heads.

Then one morning we came out and saw part of the trunk had crashed down in the night. The nest. Oh no, the nest.

This forest was severely damaged in wildfires. Many of the surviving trees look like they’re fine, but often a limb will just drop. Or sometimes a tree looks like it’s recovering and growing, and then one day the whole thing keels over.

Before the fires, this bay tree was an admirable one–huge and strong with multiple trunks. But you can see it has suffered from the fires, bark has lifted from the tree or fallen off in several places; it’s not as mighty as it once was. But it’s great for creepers, who like the rippled bark for nesting.

We studied the damage and soon realized the trunk piece that had fallen was separate from the nest.

So our hearts once again lifted.

Here you can see freshly ripped wood (left trunk) and a large hunk on the ground underneath (lower center). An arrow indicates where the nest is.

We stood there in anticipation, waiting to see if the parent was still tending the nest…and she was. They might have had a roller coaster night with the big next-door trunk cracking and dropping, but the nest remained safe.

Coyote, bobcat and fox come through on this trail regularly. We find new scat and fresh divots every morning, so a nest loaded with defenseless babies on the ground could have been disastrous.

Another day while we were photographing the creeper nest, a dark-eyed junco started scolding and harassing the parent creepers.

We soon discovered that the juncos had a nest, too, hidden in a hole beside a big rock that we were clambering around to see the creepers. We moved away and then all was well again.

As the month of June unfolded, the creeper voices continued to become even stronger.

Then one magical morning it happened.

The nestlings had become so developed that their little heads were starting to poke out of the bark. Both parents were industriously catching insects and delivering them to the nest. With binoculars, we could see their little heads.

One parent would arrive, present the insect, then fly off; and soon the other parent would do the same, and this continued for at least a half hour. It was a dizzying pace.

This parent has a spider in its bill, taking it to the nest.

And another.

At one point there was a slight pause in the delivery, and the voices raised to a louder, more emphatic volume as the impatient nestlings were forced to wait a few extra minutes.

And then one of the little chicks suddenly, and quite naturally, emerged out of the nest and started plodding up the tree.

Two siblings watched while the eldest left the nest.

Soon another sibling left…and then there was one.

Then all three were out. There was quite a bit of commotion, with their high-pitched peeping and the parents trying to keep up, flying after them and catching insects. We were all very excited.

The fledglings did not venture too far, but now they were learning to fly and feed and make their way around independently.

This fledgling was learning how to use its still-short tail to balance.

One tyke tumbled off an oak limb, but it extended its wings in a desperate struggle and landed softly. It was fine.

We think there might have been a fourth nestling, it seemed there was shadowy activity inside the tree bark crevasse. But that day it did not show itself.

And the next day when we returned, there were no creepers, nor have there been any since then. They have all moved on.

It was fortunate we were there at the right time to watch this nest full of baby birds on their maiden flights fledging into the forest.

You just never know where or when a miracle is going to happen.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

73 thoughts on “Brown Creeper Story

  1. You know I loved this story, Jet! ๐Ÿฅฐ What a super find with this family and their nest. My goodness, I wonder what this tiny family thought when the part of tree went crashing down! So thankful they made out fine.

    • I’m smiling, Donna, thank you for your glowing comment. Creepers, as you well know, are such a joy to come upon, and to find a nest was pretty exciting. Thanks for being so receptive to it.

    • Your observation and comment gave me peace, Craig, for I am working on story telling that is different than my mystery novels, and I found your words encouraging. And yes, ha ha, those little buggers sure do blend in. My warmest thanks.

  2. The third image shows how tiny the bird is. It must be very difficult to spot them since their feather colors are blended with the tree trunks so well. Great photos. Thank you for sharing the story, Jet.

    • Hi Amy, thanks for stopping by. Yes, creepers are difficult to spot and the nest was expertly hidden. It was great fun sharing the story, Amy, and I’m happy you enjoyed it.

  3. This was an incredible discovery, Jet. I know how difficult it is to find or see this well-adapted & camouflaged species. Finding it is always a pleasurable experience and a challenge to observe. This true-life story is amazing, and Athena’s photography is stunning. So enjoyable & mind-provoking. Thank you both!

    • Thank you, Walt, for your kind words. I’m glad you know the difficulty of spotting creepers, because then you also know the sheer joy of finding them, as you indicated. It was a true joy to share this experience and I thank you so much for your visit and words today.

  4. What a wonderful, enjoyable, and joyous account of your experience keeping watch on the nest and feeding activity. And how great it was that you were there at the moment the young decided to leave the nest. A memory for a lifetime. Well told Jet and well photographed Athena.

    • It was so heartwarming to have had those special moments to watch the creepers all leaving the nest. For people like you and me who spend a lot of time outdoors, it is special when we get to see a bird taking in their first few minutes out of the nest. Thank you for your avid interest and warm words, Steve, much appreciated.

  5. What a story! To see these little ones take their first steps (and flight?!) was clearly a great thrill for you both. So much drama and tension in this tale – thanks, Jet! (And itโ€™s lovely to see your wildfire ravaged landscape in some sort of recoveryโ€ฆ)

    • This little burned forest is not frequented too much so it’s almost like Athena’s and my playground, and it seems like this spring we were always finding so many surprises and developments. This one with the creepers was especially rewarding, and I am happy I could share it with you, pc. Thanks so much for your loyal visits every week, they are a joy to me.

  6. Dear Jet,
    as we live here in “The Mecca of Birdwatching” our dear Dina had to learn how to look to see certain birds. When we are out and about with birdwatchers we are amazed what they see what we would never had noticed.
    Thanks for sharing
    The Fab Four of Cley
    ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Wonderful photos and an informative piece. I love watching these birds scamper around the tree trunks. I didn’t know about their nesting habits, so it’s always good to learn something new. Have a great weekend, Jet.

    • There is something so endearing about the brown creepers, isn’t there, Anneli? I’m glad you’ve had the joy of watching them, and glad I could share the nesting secrets with you, too. Thank you so much, Anneli.

  8. I feel as though I want to cheer for the little creepers making their way to success. Your article had me sitting on the edge of my seat and hoping for a happy ending. In some of the photos I could barely see the birds as they blend into the tree. in spite of the fire damage , these miracles certainly give hope for the future.

    • Dear Sue, I sure enjoyed your feedback and what a great reward to hear a reader was sitting on the edge of their seat. Creepers are tricky to spot and photograph because, as you noticed, they blend into the tree so well. But I’m glad you could share in the joy and life of these special little birds. Thank you so much, as always, for your visit and comment. Cheers to you both.

    • We were very excited about the creeper experiences, Mark, and I’m really glad we went in there often, and were able to watch this event unfold. Creeper spotting is not common, and the nesting is rare, as you no doubt know. Happy I could share the event, and grateful for your kind words and visit.

    • We were giddy that day when we realized the tree fell down but the creepers didn’t die, as you can imagine, Eliza. We watch these nature events unfold before us, you and I and the outdoor enthusiasts, and they are not always happy endings. So when it’s a happy ending, I am elated to share it. Cheers my friend, and many thanks.

  9. What a wonderful story! I have never noticed a brown creeper. Still, the underlying part of the story about the fire damage must be so upsetting. when we get our climate change act together?
    -Julie

  10. I saw a Creeper only once, up a Live Oak in Georgia; I don’t have a photo of it. The little bird was going up and down the trunk of the tree as it was on a level boardwalk! It’s name describes the bird perfectly. I’m sure that many people have never seen it. Great story, great pictures too. Thanks, my friend. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I am glad you’ve seen that one creeper, H.J. Out here on the west coast they are year-round, so we see them a little more than the E coast, but not all that much, due to their camouflaging expertise. It was great fun watching the nesting activity, and I am so happy I could share it with you today, H.J. Thanks very much for your visit.

    • I am so glad I could give you a good dose of brown creepers and the juncos on your visit here today, Bill, since you do not see them in GA. Sending big smiles your way….

  11. Oh, Jet, I LOVE this brown creeper story! How wonderful you got to see the little ones come out of their nest for the first time and how lucky they were that their home wasn’t lost when the next-door trunk fell off the their tree! Love the picture of the dark-eyed junco, too. Thank you for sharing the miracle of this little family’s story.

    • Thank you, Barbara, for so beautifully receiving the message I gave with the Brown Creeper Story. It was indeed the miracle of this little family, and a privilege to see it and share it. Wonderful to share it with you.

  12. Such a wonderful heartwarming story that just made me feel very happy! How fortunate you were to witness all the different stages. So beautiful. Thanks for sharing this upbeat story with us.

    Peta

    • I am delighted to have shared the Brown Creeper Story with you, Peta, and given you a wave of happy feelings. I am so glad to “see” you, and am headed your way to see what adventures you’ve been up to. Thanks so much for dropping by.

    • Yes, it was a happy day with all those healthy baby birds emerging from their nest. I’m glad this sweet scene made you happy, Anita. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  13. How utterly thrilling! I really had to search for that little creeper in those first couple of shots. They are so incredibly, perfectly camouflaged!

    My heart was in my throat as I read about the near disaster. But then… catching that miracle of watching them fledge! What a marvelous, heart warming post this is. I was very nearly right there with both of you. Though, honestly…. wish I could have been! ๐Ÿค—

    • You know well the thrill of seeing the new bird generations make their way in the world. It really is such a privilege. I am so glad I could share the brown creeper story here, and that you enjoyed it, Gunta. Thanks for your warm words and visit, much appreciated, as always.

    • Yes, it was lucky that we had the opportunity to watch this brown creeper event unfold. I’m really glad I could share it with you, Belinda, and thank you for your visit and kind comment.

  14. How thrilling to witness such achievements!!! Your eyes and ears are so marvelously trained to spot the clues. I could just barely see the birds in the photos – even when you pointed out exactly where they were! Thank you for sharing your gifts!

    • We are both lucky, Athena and I, that we have spent the last 30+ years training our eyes and ears and it has been an endless payoff every day of our lives. So how fun to be able to share a few good events like this brown creeper story. Thanks so much, Nan, for your complimentary words.

  15. Jet, how much I enjoyed this narration. How fascinating and brava for both you and Alexander for having the patience to photograph this series. I too have been watching birds more so then any other year and am amazed how much teaching is involved between the parents the little ones on how to survive. Amazing!! Just today I ran into a family of Chick-a-Dees and their babies on my walk. I just stood there mesmerized as I watched these tiny birds flutter and fly to branches to find insects while Mama oversaw everyone. No I didn’t have my camera, of course. I just stood and enjoyed.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Mother Nature is absolutely a thrill every time hands down!

    • I enjoyed hearing about your chickadee adventure, Amy, and you’re right, it is thrilling to watch what the bird parents teach the baby birds, and all the teaching, learning, and skill-building that goes on. It is a world of endless beauty. How wonderful that you and I both have the opportunities to enjoy these magnificent events. Cheers to you.

    • Your comment gave me a big smile, Wayne. I agree, The Creeper does sound like a sequel to The Shadow. A scary sequel. ๐Ÿ˜€ Thanks so much for stopping by.

    • Yes, it was very exciting to see their little heads poke out and then their little bodies. Thanks for sharing the joy, ACI, it is always a pleasure to have you stop by.

    • Yes, as a nature lover, you know that some of the stories do not always have a happy ending. I’m glad I could share this one with you, Brian, thanks for stopping by.

    • And I love receiving your wonderful comments, Wilma. I’m glad you enjoyed the brown creeper nest and its activities. Thanks so much for your visit today, Wilma.

  16. What a wonderful experience for you! I’ve only rarely found nestlings, let along being able to witness their departure from their snug little home, so it was pure delight to follow this story through your words and photos. The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas mentions some of the same details you’ve included here, and a few more:

    “The nest is almost always placed between loose bark and the trunk of a large dead or dying tree. The female builds a base of twigs and strips of bark, bound together and to the bark with spider-egg cases and insect cocoons to form a hammock-like structure. The nest cup is built in the center of the base of a variety of fine plant materials, hair and feathers.”

    They’re creative, those little birds!

    • Lovely to get your response, Linda. Yes, those little birds are indeed creative. I enjoyed reading the nest info from your Breeding Bird Atlas, too, thank you. Yesterday I saw a creeper at the base of one of our oak trees and I know it was one of our little guys. How endearing was that moment. Thanks very much, Linda, for your visit and interest and warm words.

  17. Thanks for this engaging and enriching story of discovery and observation that you and Athena shared (and then shared with us) – beautifully described and photographed.

    • Thank you so much, Carol, for your visit today and your kind words. While we stay home a lot with the pandemic surging, this little burned forest has been a marvelous place of bird adventures for us. I hope you and your husband and community are making it safely through the days of challenge, uncertainty and danger. Sending warm thoughts and thanks your way.

      • Thank you very much Jet. Currently it is calm around here, but – as in many other places -these are uncertain times.
        Keep safe too where you are. With best wishes.

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