A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


The aptly named Brown Creeper is always a pleasure to watch. Typically seen flying to the base of a tree and then spiraling up its trunk, probing into crevices and under bark, searching for insects, before flitting down to a lower spot on another tree and then creeping jerkily upwards in a spiral again. Fairly common in the county in forested areas but often overlooked because of its cryptic coloring and soft, very high-pitched vocalizations that can be easy to miss (something like see-see-tsititit-see or just a repeated see; the pitch is too high for many birders to hear at all--particularly older men who, as a group, tend to lose sensitivity to high frequencies). Usually solitary, but may join foraging flocks of Chestnut-backed Chicakadee, Oak Titmouse, Bushtits, and White-breasted Nuthatch in the winter. Nests in appropriate habitat in much of the county. Makes nests in the crevices of shaggy-barked trees.

No other bird we see in Sonoma County looks or behaves like Brown Creeper. Brown Creepers almost never sit still, which makes them very hard to photograph. Mottled white and brown upper parts look like tree bark. Variably white to pale brownish-greyish underparts. White at chin and with a white “eyebrow.” Long, pointed, decurved bill is distinctive. Warmer tones at base of tail. Note the very short legs with large feet and the stiff, forked tail used to brace itself agains tree trunks (an adaptation shared by many woodpeckers). Suggests a wren or a small, skinny, brown woodpecker that’s had a little too much coffee. Unlike Nuthatches, Brown Creepers almost never crawl headfirst down a tree trunk, although they will sometimes back down, tail first.

Trivia: A Brown Creeper will virtually never walk on the ground. Although there are many species of creepers worldwide, Brown Creeper is the only North American species.

English synonyms: American Creeper, American Treecreeper, American Tree-Creeper, Brown Treecreeper, California Creeper, Mexican Creeper, Nevada Creeper, Rocky Mountain Creeper, Sierra Creeper, Southern Creeper, Tawny Creeper, Western Creeper

Brown Creeper in other languages--German: Andenbaumläufer; Spanish: Agateador Americano, Cortecerito, Trepador Americano, Trepadorcito café; French: Grimpereau brun, Grimpereau d'Amérique; Russian: Американская пищуха; Chinese: 美洲旋木雀; Japanese: アメリカキバシリ (amerika kibashiri)

(Language information from Avibase, Birds of Europe (Mullarney et al, Princeton Field Guide Series), and Birds of Asia (Mark Brazil, Princeton Field Guide Series).

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 93

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 344

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 122

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 340

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 382

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 475-476

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 434

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 285

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 340

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 286

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 97, 112

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 212-213

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 55

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 238

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 278

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 262

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 326

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 533

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 314

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Brown Creeper



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Brown Creeper, Solano Lake Park (Solano County), April 17, 2013

Brown Creeper

Certhia americana

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated May 30, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County

Brown Creeper, Avots Dr. Santa Rosa, December 16, 2013

Brown Creeper is a very well camouflaged bird