Around and Up or Around and Down: Creepers Vs Nuthatches

There are two birds around here that like to spiral around tree trunks in their hunt for tasty morsels. One goes up; the other head first down.

The fairly noticeable grey and white nuthatch goes down. The more drably bark-coloured brown creeper goes up.

Both live in my neighborhood but the White Breasted Nuthatches are easier to spot—or to hear. The nuthatches seem to keep up a running commentary of husky ‘hanks’ as they explore and hunt. The Brown Creepers flit silently and efficiently from trunk to trunk.

photo of White Breasted Nuthatch

While walking home the other day, I spotted a creeper. I stood still watching as it worked its way from oak to apple to maple. On one of the maples, it found something long and white, and pulled it out of a groove in the bark. Whatever it was, it didn’t last long. Then it was off to the base of the next maple to start checking around that tree trunk.

Photo of a Brown Creeper feeding on a tree trunk

(Sorry the photo is fuzzy. It was raining again that day. What a surprise!)

Have you ever dropped something small on a carpet, maybe a pin or an earring back? Even if you get right down to carpet level, sometimes you can’t see it, until you shift around and look from another direction.

I wonder if that’s true of nuthatches and creepers, too. Perhaps with their differing angles of approach, they spot different insects to eat. Certainly I’ve seen them both feeding in the same flock, without any outward signs of aggression towards one another. Perhaps their slightly different feeding habits ensure both birds find plenty to eat, and neither bird goes hungry.

Photo of a brown creeper on a trunk at Jack Darling Park Mississauga

Notice how well they blend in. Also notice they use their tail a bit while climbing.

Join In
Do you have brown creepers or white breasted nuthatches visiting your trees? Have you seen any interesting behaviour? Please share your experiences with a comment.

4 thoughts on “Around and Up or Around and Down: Creepers Vs Nuthatches

  1. Just watching a nuthatch; Up, up, circling my locust tree. I used to think that the climbing direction was a major distinguisher, but now, not at all. I have seen both climb in both directions. Although, now that I think of it, brown creepers have not been around for several years. Pity.

    • I think it’s more noticeable when the birds are aimed headfirst down a tree although as you say they do go both ways: and even laterally along large branches. Here near Lake Ontario, I only get Brown Creepers when they migrate through in the spring and fall. I hope you may still see one yet this year. (Sometimes I see things right after realizing I haven’t seen them for a long time; I hope that happens for you too!) Thanks for sharing your sighting!

  2. I have the same experience as Frankie. Used to see Nuthatch and Creeper all the time here in extreme NE corner of IL. Haven’t seen a Creeper in maybe 4-5 years.
    Christmas of 2000 my family counted 24 Cardinals in a tree right by the house. In recent years I only see a couple every day. What’s happened??

    • Some bird populations are in decline but those two types aren’t reported as being too bad. It’s possible something else has changed in the area: Perhaps the trees have matured or too many in woodlots within 5-10 km have been taken down; sometimes it’s due to changes in natural pests. When spruce budworm outbreaks are bad, some types of birds thrive and become very numerous. I don’t live in your area so I don’t know any of the local factors. Perhaps if there is a Field Naturalist group nearby, they might be able to answer your question. You can also check for bird reports on eBird in your area to see if the birds are there but just not where they used to be. Sorry to hear there’s been a decline!

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