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  • Writer's pictureJ. Darris Mitchell

Brown Creeper

Bird of the Week 2/11/23

The woods at the Hornsby Bend Waste Treatment Plant are old cattle land planted with pecan trees. It’s hard to tell that anymore, because the city has owned the land for quite some time and has let a forest of hackberry trees and other pioneering natives grow up into a forest. But these mighty, almost unfathomably large pecan trees remain. Sentinels of a bygone era.

It was under one of these trees that I first heard the brown creeper. Being able to recognize a bird from its call is a skill I once scoffed at. To think that someone would have the audacity to claim they could tell one squeaky chirp from another was laughable. Now I do it routinely, almost without being able to help myself. In fact there are even a couple of birds that can only be reliably identified by call because their plumage is so similar to another species. I once derided these birds. Now I listen for them when the season is right.

The forest around me was alive with chirps of cardinals and yellow-rumped warblers. There were also Carolina wrens calling back and forth and best of all, golden crowned kinglets singing their thinly whistled song. Except one of them was just… off.

I stopped, wondering if I could trust my own ears. Could that have been a brown creeper? I paused, scanning the trunks of trees around me—brown creepers move up and down tree trunks, looking for insects rather than using the branches like so many of the other songbirds do—and then I saw it.

A Brown Creeper is remarkably squat for a bird, with a long bill and a stubby tail it uses to steady itself against the tree. They don’t flit from branch to branch, but—perhaps unsurprisingly—creep about. They are speckled in fifty shades of brown, and spectacularly camouflaged with tree bark. I don’t think I would be able to pick one out if it was right in front of me unless it moved.

I’ve seen them before, but this was a new feeling. I felt a surge of pride knowing that I had heard a brown creeper and successfully identified it by its call! This was proof that my skills had increased, that I had become more adept at listening to the calls of birds than I had a year ago.

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