Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: The Mysterious Brown Creeper


Although the title sounds like a 1930s horror movie, the Brown Creeper is one of the most charming little birds you might never see unless you look really hard.

The very first Brown Creeper I ever saw was many years ago in Teterboro woods. While taking a fall stroll out of the corner of my eye I saw what I thought was a brown leaf falling to the ground. But as I took a closer look the leaf, what turned out to be a tiny brown bird started to walk up the tree head first.


It was a kind of surreal experience watching the tiny, sprite, brilliantly camouflaged bird spiraling its way around a large oak. Needless to say this tiny russet feathered friend has held a special place in my heart ever since.

I don’t think there is bird that can vanish easier than a Brown Creeper. If it stops for just a second it seems to disappear into plain sight, blending into its background as well as any owl ever could. I love trying to point this little bird out to folks while on a field trip. After I announce that there is a “Brown Creeper on the tree just ahead,” it almost always is followed by “Where?” “Where?” And “Huh?’

The Brown Creeper is a fall-winter bird for most of us, breeding to the north in areas like High Point State Park in Sussex County and then moving farther south in winter to places like DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst and Losen Slote Creek Park in Little Ferry in its search for more food sources.

Its specialized long, curved bill and stiff woodpecker like tail allows it to search for insects and spiders hidden in and under the bark of trees. I sometimes wonder as the Brown Creeper works its way up the tree head-first does it ever bunk heads with a White-breasted Nuthatch on their way down?  (Just a thought).

Another strange behavior of the Brown creeper is that it builds a hammock-like nest behind a loosened flap of bark on a dead or dying tree. It wasn’t until 1879 that naturalists discovered this unique nesting method.

And, according to Cornell Labs “All About Birds,” Brown Creepers have also been known to build their nests on man-made objects such as window shutters, in or under roofs, inside fence posts, or inside concrete blocks. One brought up a family in a specially constructed box made of pieces of Douglas-fir bark.

As you explore the Meadowlands this winter searching for hawks, owls and falcons, take a minute to flip up your woolen hat, pull up your gloves and look out of the corner of your eye. You may be delighted to see a small bird none more splendid or unique than the Brown Creeper. Let me know if you spot one and where. I would love to hear from you.

For more about the Brown Creeper go to

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