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Identification of a Cute Brown Bird

Dear Bird Folks,

I have the cutest little bird coming to my yard. It acts just like a nuthatch climbing on the trunks of my trees. But it isn’t black and white like a nuthatch, it is mostly dull brown. Could it be a young nuthatch?

Janet, Eastham


No Janet,

Your cute little bird is not a nuthatch, young or old. The bird that you have described is a brown creeper. That’s right, bird’s real name is “brown creeper.” The name says it all. The brown creeper is indeed brown and spends most of its time creeping on the trunks of trees. It is a bird with a true descriptive name, unlike the nuthatch. I’ve yet to figure out what that name means.

The brown creeper is a small shy birds that looks more like a dried leaf than a bird. And it is more common than most of us think. Creepers are like people who drive Plymouths, they are all around us, but people rarely notice them. Creepers are rather quiet birds and have a foraging behavior that is a little different from nuthatches. The talkative nuthatch will descend the trunk of a tree headfirst while it searches for food. The creeper, on the other hand, never climbs down a tree. It always “creeps up” the trunk of the tree. If the creeper misses something, it will fly down to the base of the tree and work its way back up. It will never turn around, go back, or ask directions. You know, like when your husband is driving.

The creeper will sometimes visit our suet feeders, but it rarely stays to feed for very long. After a bite or two, it quickly moves on. It seems to be embarrassed to be taking food without a proper invitation. When foraging, creepers use their long down curved beaks to search tree bark for insects, spider eggs or loose change.

Brown creepers probably nest in every town on the Cape, but most people never take the time to notice them. What creepers need to do is hire a better publicity agent. Birds, like Atlantic Puffins, are seldom seen on Cape Cod, yet everyone knows who they are and what they look like. Stores are filled with puffin knicknacks and T-shirts. But people rarely ask for a creeper knicknack. Even the name sounds weird. And when was the last time you saw a brown creeper T-shirt? Creeper clothing really doesn’t thrill the fashion world. A brown creeper T-shirt would look more like a shirt with a faded chocolate stain than a cool bird.

But there are advantages to being dull. The colorful puffin has to nest underground on small isolated islands. The demure creeper can nest here, right under our noses (perhaps not under everyone’s nose, but I know of a few noses that would support a whole family of creepers). And they never have to look very far to find a place to sleep. Most birds need to seek out dense foliage for protection while they sleep. The cryptic creepers roost out in the open, clinging to the trunk of the nearest tree. There used to be a creeper that would spend the night clinging to the side of my brown-stained garage. It blended in so well that no one ever noticed it. No one noticed it but me, with my keen eye. Well actually, my eye wasn’t that keen, a friend had to point the bird out to me, but you don’t need to know that.

Good for you for noticing that little creeper, Janet. They are fun birds to watch, even though they are a bit dull. But there is nothing wrong with being dull, just ask my accountant.