Pennsylvania Game News - May 2016 - 64

T

Earthen-Colored Jewels

HERE'S A WOODLAND BIRD less obvious and easier to miss
than most. Even its name is unobtrusive: brown creeper. The
bird's mottled brownish back closely matches its chosen niche
in the forest, the bark of trees.
Of creepers, ornithologist Kenn Kaufman writes: "No other
birds spend their lives in such intimate contact with tree bark."
Thoreau poetically described a creeper as "gray-brown, a
low curve from point of beak to end of tail, resting flat against
the tree."
Should you spy one of these sprites in a stand of tall timber,
pause and watch it earn its living. The bird starts at the bottom of
a tree and takes hold with its strong, long-clawed feet. It makes its
way upward, moving smoothly, almost gliding up the trunk while using its thin,
down-curved bill to extract food from the furrowed bark terrain.
Creepers eat insects, including eggs and pupae, caterpillars and spiders. A
brown creeper inspects tree bark visually, probing its bill into crevices, its long
tail braced against the bark to steady itself in much the way that a woodpecker
uses its stiff tail to hold itself in place. After a brown creeper spirals up a tree, it
darts to the base of a new tree and repeats the process.
If you're lucky, you may see a creeper working its way up a tree, being passed
by a nuthatch hitching its way down the same trunk while looking for similar food.
Male creepers maintain a breeding territory through singing. Their song, like
the bird itself, is subtle. It's thin and high-pitched; I can't hear it unless I'm right
on top of the singing bird. The notes jumbled, although some folks hear the
phrase Trees, beautiful trees.
It comes as no surprise that creepers build their nests in tree bark. I found an
old one once, at about eye-level, hidden behind the exfoliating bark of a gypsymoth-killed oak on our land in central Pennsylvania. The nest was a 6-inch-long
hammock securely built of twigs, spider silk, and whiskery bark that appeared
to have come from a grapevine. It would have held five or six tiny eggs, creamcolored and spotted reddish brown.
Brown creepers may shift southward in winter, but usually some remain resident
in stands of mature woods. They have to work long and hard during those short
days, gleaning enough food to supply the calories they burn during the long cold
nights. Like chickadees, brown creepers may roost communally, with up to 10
of the diminutive birds huddled together in a tree cavity.
Whatever the season, when hiking in the woods, keep your eyes open for a
sudden swooping motion as a creeper homes in on the base of a tree, or a brown
gliding shadow as one works its way up the trunk. Animated, earthen-colored
jewels, creepers are always a delight to see.

Chuck Fergus

64



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Pennsylvania Game News - May 2016

Contents
Pennsylvania Game News - May 2016 - Intro
Pennsylvania Game News - May 2016 - Cover1
Pennsylvania Game News - May 2016 - Cover2
Pennsylvania Game News - May 2016 - Contents
Pennsylvania Game News - May 2016 - 2
Pennsylvania Game News - May 2016 - 3
Pennsylvania Game News - May 2016 - 4
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Pennsylvania Game News - May 2016 - 63
Pennsylvania Game News - May 2016 - 64
Pennsylvania Game News - May 2016 - Cover3
Pennsylvania Game News - May 2016 - Cover4
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