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Brown Creeper


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Brown Creepers are tiny woodland birds with an affinity for the biggest trees they can find. Look for these little, long-tailed scraps of brown and white spiraling up stout trunks and main branches, sometimes passing downward-facing nuthatches along the way. They probe into crevices and pick at loose bark with their slender, downcurved bills, and build their hammock-shaped nests behind peeling flakes of bark. Their piercing calls can make it much easier to find this hard-to-see but common species.

Keys to identification Help

Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Brown Creepers are tiny yet lanky songbirds. They have long, spine-tipped tails, slim bodies, and slender, decurved bills.

  • Color Pattern

    Streaked brown and buff above, with their white underparts usually hidden against a tree trunk, Brown Creepers blend easily into bark. Their brownish heads show a broad, buffy stripe over the eye (supercilium).

  • Behavior

    Brown Creepers search for small insects and spiders by hitching upward in a spiral around tree trunks and limbs. They move with short, jerky motions using their stiff tails for support. To move to a new tree, they fly weakly to its base and resume climbing up. Brown Creepers sing a high, warbling song; they also give a high, wavering call note that sounds similar to that of a Golden-crowned Kinglet.

  • Habitat

    Brown Creepers breed primarily in mature evergreen or mixed evergreen-deciduous forests. You can find them at many elevations, even as high as 11,000 feet at treeline in the West. In the winter season, the species moves into a broader variety of forests and becomes much easier to find in deciduous woodlands.

Range Map Help

Brown Creeper Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Brown Creeper

    • Very small with slender, decurved bill
    • Patterned brown above, white below
    • Climbs up tree trunks using tail as a prop
    • © Lew Ulrey, Boise, Idaho, November 2010
  • Adult

    Brown Creeper

    • Small and nuthatch-like
    • Very thin, decurved black bill
    • Patterned brown back
    • White below
    • © The Nature Nook, New Hampshire, April 2010
  • Adult

    Brown Creeper

    • Small and nuthatch-like
    • Slender, decurved bill
    • Uses stiff tail feathers to prop itself against tree trunks
    • Patterned brown above, pale gray or white below
    • © Ron Kube, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, February 2009
  • Adult

    Brown Creeper

    • Small and delicate with patterned brown back
    • Slender, decurved bill
    • White underparts
    • Almost always seen climbing tree trunks using tail as prop
    • © Dave Govoni, Brentsville, Virginia, January 2011

Similar Species

  • Adult

    White-breasted Nuthatch

    • Larger and stockier than Brown Creeper
    • Blue-gray wings
    • Black cap
    • Stout, pointed, wedge-like bill
    • © Bill Thompson, Hadley, Massachusetts, January 2012
  • Adult male

    Red-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult male
    • Often seen on feeders and tree trunks; may feed upside-down or right-side up
    • Bright orange-red underparts
    • Black cap and eyestripe
    • Bluish gray back and wings
    • Sharp, slightly upturned bill
    • © Lyn Winans
  • Adult

    Brown-headed Nuthatch

    • Small nuthatch; climbs headfirst down tree trunks.
    • Brown crown contrasts with pale throat
    • Underparts whitish
    • Blue gray back, nape, wings, and rump
    • © Andy Jordan, Burroughs Park, Texas, December 2010
  • Adult

    Pygmy Nuthatch

    • Very small and stocky
    • Like other nuthatches, often hangs upside down while foraging
    • Dark brown cap contrasts with pale throat
    • Blue/gray back and wings
    • © Bob Gunderson, Outer Richmond, San Francisco, California, October 2011
  • Adult

    Black-and-white Warbler

    • Boldly patterned in black and white
    • Thin black bill is straight, with no curve
    • © Matt Bango, Central Park, New York, New York, May 2009
  • Adult

    House Wren

    • Similar to Brown Creeper but not usually seen climbing tree trunks
    • Dusky gray/brown underparts
    • Short, pointed bill
    • © splinx1, Peoria, Illinois, April 2009

Similar Species

White-breasted, Red-breasted, Brown-headed, and Pygmy Nuthatches usually move down tree trunks instead of up like Brown Creepers; they have short tails and they don’t lean on them for support the way Brown Creepers do. Nuthatches are much grayer on the back, totally lacking the streaky brown camouflage of Brown Creepers. Black-and-white Warblers forage in a similar manner to Brown Creepers, but they are much more strongly patterned in black and white, with shorter tails that they don’t use for support. Golden-crowned Kinglets sound like Brown Creepers and live in the same habitats, but they are green and gray with a short, straight bill and short tail. They forage among branches and needles rather than on bark.

Regional Differences

Brown Creepers vary somewhat in color and voice across their range. The most noticeable is the “Mexican” Brown Creeper, which ranges into southeastern Arizona and New Mexico. It tends to be darker on the back than creepers in other parts of North America.

Backyard Tips

Though they eat mostly insects, in winter Brown Creepers will eat suet and peanut butter, and occasionally sunflower seeds, pine seeds, grass seeds, and corn. You’re more likely to see them if there are large, old trees nearby. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

Find This Bird

Brown Creepers are well camouflaged and inconspicuous against tree bark in a shady forest, but if you keep your eyes peeled for movement, you may find a creeper zigzagging upward as it gleans insects from the trunk, or see the small shape of one dropping from high on a trunk to the base of a nearby tree. Once learned, the high, insistent call note can alert you to the presence of these birds. Look for Brown Creepers in mature woods, if possible, though you can also find them in parks and suburban areas in the winter.

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