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Well-hidden Brown Creeper has song ‘soft as the wind’

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Bird flocks with more common species, blends in with surroundings

The Brown Creeper is certainly one of the most inconspicuous birds in the bird kingdom.

For any of you that have forested habitat, this 5-1/4 inch long bird with a 7-3/4 inch wide wingspan, probably is hanging out with many of your small flocks of chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and woodpeckers, especially in the winter months.

You just are not seeing them because of their coloration and feeding habits.

The Brown Creeper has a brown colored top of head, back and tail feathers, and this is the portion of the bird that you normally see. This coloration closely resembles bark and serves as an adequate camouflage technique.

The tail feathers are nearly as long as the wing and are stiffened and pointed like a woodpecker. Its legs are short but the toes are long, especially the hind toes and each has long claws for climbing and clinging to tree bark.

However, its breast is white but is kept pressed against the tree while the Brown Creeper quietly, diligently climbs upward while searching for insects, spiders and their egg sacs.

This little creeper uses its somewhat long, slender, curved beak to pry under the tree bark for its next meal. However, this beak is never used to dig like a woodpecker but instead to capture its food that may be concealed in crevices or underneath the bark. The search is always started at the base of usually a large tree.

In a somewhat jerky fashion, the creeper ascends up half to two thirds of the tree and upon reaching the top of its spiral staircase; this small bird will suddenly drop down to the base of a nearby tree and repeat this food finding adventure. All of this is done while uttering a faint lisping call.

The Brown Creeper's actual breeding range includes a large part of the northern hemisphere. In North America it is from Nova Scotia, Central Ontario, Southern Manitoba and Central Alaska south to Massachusetts, Northern Indiana, the North Carolina and Kentucky mountains, western Kentucky swamp areas, eastern Nebraska and in the western mountains south to northern Nicaragua. It winters all the way to south Florida, the Gulf Coast and central Texas.

Forests are their favorite home, especially wooded swamps where there is a greater frequency of dead trees with hanging strips of loose bark that help serve as possible nest locations.

In Kentucky, they have been found nesting and/or seen in the summer months in Ballard, Bullitt, Harlan, Henderson, Hickman, Jefferson, Marshall, Union, Whitley and Wolfe counties as well as Red River Gorge. Its breeding status in our commonwealth is endangered. Its song on its breeding grounds, according to an old Birds-of-America book that was published in 1917, was described as "A sweet song of four notes that was so plaintive, that it is almost like the soft sigh of the wind.”

The nests, when located in swamps, are about six feet above the water. It is a hammock or half moon type of nest generally located behind a loose slab of bark but occasionally in a rotted cavity if loose bark is not available.

The nest is a foundation of twigs, leaves and bark shredding and is lined with finer bark shreds, grasses, mosses, and occasionally feathers.

The female builds the nest, but the male may carry material and the construction may take as long as a month to complete.

The female lays four to eight eggs, commonly five to six with a smooth shell with little or no gloss. They are white or creamy and peppered or spotted with reddish brown and sometimes wreathed. Both sexes will incubate for 14-15 days.

Nesting activity has been noticed in Kentucky as early as May 5 at one site, with young seen as early as May 22 at another site.

The young have the same plumage as adults at the tender age of six months, which is another uncommon trait.

So the very least you can do is to search the wooded areas for small flocks of the more common wintering birds and with binoculars see if a Brown Creeper is accompanying them. Birds flock together like this, knowing that the more eyes that are watching for predators, makes for a safer environment.

Then in the spring you may want to haunt some wooded swamps with your binoculars and waders while searching for that hammock type nest and listening for their breeding song. However, it will be strictly up to you to determine if you are actually hearing the wind or their sweet song, sounding like the soft sigh of the wind in the great outdoors.