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brown creeper

Certhia americana

What do they look like?

Brown creepers are tiny birds that look like a piece of bark from a few feet away. Their back, head and wings are dark-brown with lots of white streaks and splotches. They have a brown stripe through their eye and a white stripe above the eye that looks like an eyebrow. Their bellies are white with some reddish/brown. They have a long, stiff tail feathers that they use to hold themselves up against tree trunks.

Brown creepers are 11.7 to 13.5 cm long and weigh 7.2 to 9.9 g. Their wing chords are 62.9 to 65.5 mm long. The standard metabolic rate for brown creepers is around 4.0 kcal/24 hours.

Male and female brown creepers look very similar. The bills are one of the only ways to tell males from females. Males usually have a slightly longer bill (1 to 2 mm longer) than females. The bills of both males and females are curved downward. (Hejl, et al., 2002; Robbins, et al., 1966)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    7.2 to 9.9 g
    0.25 to 0.35 oz
  • Range length
    11.7 to 13.5 cm
    4.61 to 5.31 in

Where do they live?

Brown creepers (Certhia americana) are the only species of treecreepers in North America. They are found throughout North America from Canada and Alaska to as far south as northern Nicaragua.

Brown creepers that breed in the southern part of the range live in the same area year-round. Those that breed in the northern part of the range migrate south for the winter. Brown creepers can be found in winter throughout most of the United States except for areas high in the mountains, in the Great Basin, the Sonoran Desert, southern Texas and Florida. (Hejl, et al., 2002)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Brown creepers live in coniferous forests and forests of mixed coniferous and deciduous trees. They need large trees for hunting and for nesting. (Hejl, et al., 2002)

How do they reproduce?

Brown creepers are monogamous (one male mates with one female). Males sing songs to attract a mate. If a female is interested in a male, they chase each other around while fluttering their wings and exposing their white bellies. The male may feed the female during courtship and incubation. Breeding pairs remain together for several weeks after their chicks are able to fly. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Hejl, et al., 2002)

Brown creepers breed between April and July. The male and female chose the nest site together, but the female builds the nest. Nests are usually built on the trunk of a dead or dying tree, underneath a piece of loose bark. They take 6 to 30 days to build and are made of twigs and lined with feathers, leaves, lichens and other soft materials.

The female lays 3 to 7 eggs. She begins incubating after she has laid the last egg. The female does all of the incubation and the male brings food to her. Incubation lasts 13 to 17 days.

The chicks are helpless when they hatch. They all hatch on the same day. The female broods them during bad weather. Both parents feed them. The chicks leave the nest after 15 to 17 days, but the parents keep feeding them for at least two weeks. The chicks can probably breed the next summer. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Hejl, et al., 2002)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Brown creepers breed once per year and raise one brood per breeding season.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from April through July
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 7
  • Range time to hatching
    13 to 17 days
  • Range fledging age
    15 to 17 days
  • Range time to independence
    14 (low) days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Both parents find the nest site, but the female builds the nest. The female incubates the eggs and broods the chicks. Both parents feed the chicks during while they are in the nest, and for a few weeks after they leave the nest. Both parents also carry eggshells away from the nest and remove the chicks’ fecal sacs from the nest to keep it clean. (Hejl, et al., 2002)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female

How long do they live?

The oldest known brown creeper lived to be 4 years and 7 months old. (Hejl, et al., 2002)

How do they behave?

Brown creepers fly only short distances between tree trunks. They begin searching for food at the bottom of a tree, climbing upward. When they reach the top of the tree, they fly to the bottom of the next tree to begin again. They defend a breeding territory during the spring and summer. During the winter, brown creepers are not territorial. They may join flocks with other species of birds to look for food. They may also roost with other brown creepers in the winter.

Most brown creepers are year-round residents. However, those that breed at high latitudes and in the northern part of their range migrate south in autumn. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Hejl, et al., 2002)

Home Range

Family groups have been seen within a 500 meter radius of former nests. Territory size depends largely on the breeding density of a population. (Hejl, et al., 2002)

How do they communicate with each other?

Brown creepers communicate mostly using songs. When fighting for a territory, males sing a high pitched song. Males sing most during the breeding season. (Hejl, et al., 2002)

What do they eat?

Brown creepers mostly eat small arthropods such as spiders, psudoscorpions, and insects. Some of the insects they eat are stinkbugs, fruit flies, and weevils. They also eat seeds and other plant parts during the winter.

Brown creepers search for food on tree trunks and branches. They almost never hunt for food on the ground. They prefer to search for food on large trees with thick bark because these trees hold more arthropods.

Brown creepers move up along the trunk, sometimes going in circles around it. As they move, they stick their bill into cracks and holes in the bark, searching for food. When they reach the top of a tree, they fly back to the bottom of the tree or to the bottom of another tree, and start searching again. (Hejl, et al., 2002)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Predators of brown creeper eggs, nestlings and adults include red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), domestic cats (Felis silvestris), northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus), golden-mantled ground squirrels (Spermophilus lateralis), wood rats (genus Neotoma), and deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus). When brown creepers see a predator nearby, they lay flat against the bark of a tree to hide themselves. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Hejl, et al., 2002)

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • cryptic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Brown creepers compete with other birds, such as red-headed woodpeckers, for food and for territories.

Brown-headed cowbirds sometimes lay their eggs in the nests of brown creepers. When this happens, the brown creeper parents often raise the brown-headed cowbird chicks along with their own chicks. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988; Hejl, et al., 2002)

Do they cause problems?

Brown creepers do not hurt humans in any way that we know about.

How do they interact with us?

Brown creepers eat insects that are pests to some humans.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

Brown creepers are not protected as a federally endangered or threatened species in the United States. However, they are protected by state laws in Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio, Idaho, Montana, and New York. Brown creepers are also protected under the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

There are about 5,400,000 brown creepers in the world. We do not know if this number is increasing or decreasing. (Hejl, et al., 2002)

Contributors

Alaine Camfield (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Kari Kirschbaum (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Chris Erickson (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

References

Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, D. Wheye. 1988. The Birder's Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Hejl, S., K. Newlon, M. McFadzen, J. Young, C. Ghalambor. 2002. Brown Creeper (Certhia americana). Pp. 1-32 in A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, Vol. 669. The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologist's Union, Washington, D.C.

Robbins, C., B. Bruun, H. Zim. 1966. Birds of North America. New York: Westen Publishing Company.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Erickson, C. 2004. "Certhia americana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 24, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Certhia_americana/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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