By Thomas Dennis
Brown Creeper, Certhia Americana
Long before our 36th president, Lyndon Baines Johnson was affectionately referred to by his initials LBJ; bird enthusiasts used the LBJ tag to refer to small brownish colored birds, “little brown jobs”, that are difficult to distinguish from similar looking species. With Winter Bird Blast behind us and the long-awaited spring migration a few weeks away, it’s a great time to look at a few of our local LBJ and maybe even learn how to distinguish one species from another. The first LBJ we will review is the Brown Creeper, an ever-present winter visitor that doesn’t make its presence well known. Let’s take a close look and learn how and where to spot these special little creatures so we can move them from the LBJ list to the “wow, I’ve seen them in my yard” list.
The Brown Creeper is similar in size to nuthatches but is easily differentiated from them by a rather long, down-curved bill and a much longer tail. Adults are brown with light spotting on the upper parts, a white throat blending into gray underparts. Additional field-marks include a white eyebrow, dark eye, rufous tail, and a buff wing bar that shows only during flight. They are very well camouflaged on tree bark and will hold perfectly still to avoid detection by hawks. The call is a high pitched, thin “tsee”. They move quickly from tree to tree so if you see one for the first time, don’t bother running for the camera, watch closely for the short time they are in view.
The genus name Certhia is derived from the Ancient Greek kerthios, a small tree-dwelling bird and proves the famous statement of Gus Portokalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek”! The specific epithet Americana is New Latin for “of the Americas”. The common name describes their foraging habit of moving up tree trunks in a series of small hops in a spiral fashion as they search for insects and spiders in the bark. They always move from bottom to top and resemble falling leaves as they return to ground level and resume this behavior on the next tree. There are ten species of creepers world-wide but the Brown Creeper is the only North American representative.
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Brown Creepers have a wide breeding range that extends from the south coast of Alaska to Newfoundland and we are very near the year-round range that extends through much of South America in higher elevations. Their winter range includes portions of all states except Hawaii. Their breeding habitat includes moist, hardwood forests and mixed woodlands where preferred feeding is on coniferous trees.
Although they feed mostly on insects and spiders they will eat seeds and small nuts and will come to feeders for suet. If you want to learn more about birds you are welcome to attend Blue Water Audubon meetings held at The Pointe, 5085 Lakeshore Rd, in Fort Gratiot on the first Monday of the month, October through May at 6:45 PM. There is also a Facebook page, “Blue Water Audubon Society”, be sure to friend us.
Tom Dennis is a free-lance writer, passionate birder, zoologist, and naturalist and is a member of Blue Water Audubon, Friends of the St. Clair River, and is a Michigan Conservation Steward.