Illustration: Brown creeper

Illustration by H. Douglas Pratt


Map: Brown creeper range


The brown creeper is quite vocal, but its high-pitched vocalizations are easily missed. It is generally solitary, but it sometimes migrates and winters with flocks of titmice, nuthatches, and kinglets. Polytypic (15 ssp.; 9 north of United States-Mexico border ). Length 5.3" (13 cm).

Identification Distinctive shape and foraging behavior. Male and female: identical plumage; male larger. Cryptic upperparts streaked brown, buff, and black; underparts pale with warm wash on flanks; rump buff, tawny, or rufous. Flight: broad, pale wing stripe at base of flight feathers prominent in flight.

Geographic Variation Subspecies north of the United States-Mexico border divide into 3 groups: western birds (alascensis, occidentalis, stewarti, phillipsi, zelotes, montana) are small, dark, and long billed; eastern birds (americana, nigrescens)  are larger, generally paler, and shorter billed; the Mexican albescens, darker with white spotting that contrasts more, extends into southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico. Rufous, brown, and gray morphs in several populations complicate identification.

Similar Species None; vaguely similar to some wrens, but shape and behavior very different.

Voice Very high-pitched. Call: a soft, sibilant seee, usually buzzier and doubled in western birds, tseeesee. Flight call: a short, weak tsf; shorter and  softer than golden-crowned kinglet and chickadees. Song: variable, but consists of several notes, seee seeedsee sideeu. Eastern songs more complex, quavering, and usually end on a high note; western songs more rhythmic and often end on a low note.

Status and Distribution Fairly common; uncommon or rare breeder in southeast portion of range. Breeding: coniferous, mixed, or swampy forests. Highest densities found in old-growth forest. Wider habitat variety during migration and winter. Migration: resident birds complicate detection of migrants in some areas. Peak late March–mid-April and October–November in Midwest/Northeast. Winter: much of North America.

Population Populations thought to have declined throughout much of North America with the felling of old-growth forests. Breeding populations listed as endangered in Kentucky and as of special concern in some midwestern and eastern states.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006

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