Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
CERTHIA FAMILIARIS, Linn.
PLATE CXV.--MALE AND FEMALE.
The only parts of the United States in which I have not met with this
species during winter are the eastern and northern portions of the Floridas.
This has appeared the more strange to me, because I have observed several of
these birds in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, at that season,
during which it is not rare in any of the States intervening between these and
Maryland. In the spring and summer months, or what is usually called the
breeding season, the Brown Creeper may be found over the whole country, from the
thick woods of the northern parts of Pennsylvania to Newfoundland. None were
seen by my party or myself in Labrador, and as no mention is made of this
species in the Fauna Boreali-Americana, I suspect that the want of sufficiently
wooded localities prevents it from proceeding so far north.
This bird alights on trees of all kinds, in the Carolinas on pines, in
Maine on maples, in Kentucky on hickories, oaks, or ash-trees; and as, from the
time when it is first able to fly, it is one of the most constant roamers of the
forest, you may meet with it in almost any part of the woods. The taller trees,
however, are generally preferred by it, perhaps on account of its reluctance to
fly from one tree to another at a distance. It seldom leaves a tree without
searching all its crannies, from near the roots to the tops of the larger
branches, which it does with incomparable assiduity and care, yet by movements
so rapid that a person unacquainted with it might be inclined to think that it
runs up the trunk and branches, directly or spirally, above or beneath the
latter, without any other intention than that of reaching the end of its journey
as quickly as possible. The reverse of this, however, is the case, for, shoot
one of them when you please, you will find its stomach crammed with insects and
larvae, such as occur on the trees. When these are not found in abundance, the
Creeper appears to discover the scarcity very soon, and instead of continuing
its search, abandons the tree when not many yards from the ground, and launching
off shoots downwards in its usual manner, and alights a little above the roots
of another in the neighborhood. I have observed it when satiated, remain still
and silent as if asleep, and, as it were, glued to the bark, for nearly an hour
at a time. But whether the bird was really asleep, or wished to elude us, is
more than I can affirm, although I am inclined toward the latter supposition,
because toward night it retires to a hole, where frequently as many as a whole
brood repose together, as I have on several occasions witnessed.
When on the move, the Brown Creeper emits at short intervals a sharp,
quick, rather grating note, peculiar to itself, and by which you may, if
acquainted with it, discover from a distance of more than sixty yards, in calm
weather, where it is. Yet, after all, it requires some time, and a good eye, to
perceive it, if on one of the upper branches of a tall tree. The name of
"Gleaner," applied to this bird, is, in my opinion, very inappropriate; for
instead of its following the different tribes of small Woodpeckers, or even
Nuthatches, which, however, are at times found in company with it, I have seen
our little hunter travel over every part of a large and tall tree, and
afterwards remove to another, before the Woodpecker had hammered its way to a
grub, which it knew to be under the bark; and all the activity of our Nuthatches
does not perhaps surpass that of the present species. Yet they all pursue their
avocations at the same time, and now and then on the same trees, although this
is by no means a constant habit with them.
WILSON was of opinion that the Brown Creeper moves "rapidly and uniformly
alone, with his tail bent to the tree, and not in the hopping manner of the
Woodpecker;" but I must differ from him, for the bird at each move actually
hops, assisted by the pressure of its elastic tail, which indeed is the case
with all our Woodpeckers, whether on the upper or the lower surface of a branch.
This may be easily seen on placing a Brown Creeper in a cage containing a piece
of a branch covered with scaly bark.
This bird breeds in the hole of a tree, giving a marked preference to such
as are small and rounded at the entrance. For this reason, perhaps, it often
takes possession of the old and abandoned nests of our smaller Woodpeckers and
Squirrels; but it is careless as to the height of the situation above the
ground, for I have found its nest in a hole in a broken stump which I could
reach with my hand, although I could not examine it on account of the hardness
of the wood. All the nests which I have seen were loosely formed of grasses and
lichens of various sorts, and warmly lined with feathers, among which I in one
instance found some from the abdomen of Tetrao Umbellus. The eggs are from six
to eight, but in some instances I have found only five, when I have supposed
them to belong to a second brood. They measure five-eighths and three-fourths
of an inch in length, four and a quarter eighths in their greatest breadth.
Their ground-colour is white, with a yellowish tint, irregularly marked with red
and purplish spots and dots, which are larger and more crowded toward the broad
end, leaving a space at its apex nearly free, as is also the case with that of
the narrow end; there are small dots of pure neutral tint here and there, but
none of those "streaks of dark brown" described by WILSON.
The young, like those of our Woodpeckers and Nuthatches, remain about the
nest until they are able to fly, and in their minority are well supplied with
food. The members of a family usually remain together until the next spring.
The males of this species are larger than the females. This difference is
very apparent in the bill. In the winter months, the Brown Creeper is not
unfrequently seen in orchards, and at a short distance from farm-houses; but in
the breeding season it retires to the interior of the forests. Its food
consists chiefly of ants, larvae, small insects, and particles of lichens; and,
if one be placed near the nose, it is generally found to emit an odour like
that of ants.
BROWN CREEPER, Certhia familiaris, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. i. p. 122.
CERTHIA FAMILIARIS, Bonap. Syn. p. 280.
BROWN CREEPER, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 585.
BROWN CREEPER, Certhia familiaris, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. v. p. 158.
Bill a little shorter than the head, arched, very slender, much compressed,
acute; upper mandible with the dorsal line arched, the ridge narrow, the sides
sloping at the base, nearly erect in the rest of their extent, the edges sharp
and arched, without notch, the tip acute; nasal groove rather long, narrow,
feathered; nostrils linear-oblong, operculate; lower mandible with the angle
rather long, narrow, and pointed, the outline decurved, the sides erect and
convex, the edges inclinate, the tip acute.
Head rather small, ovato-oblong; neck short; body slender. Feet rather
short, very slender; tarsus rather shorter than the middle toe, very slender,
much compressed; toes extremely compressed; the first comparatively, large,
longer than the middle toe, including the claws; the inner toe shorter than the
outer; claws long, slender, extremely compressed, laterally grooved, acute, that
of the hind toe very long.
Plumage long, loose, very soft; the feathers ovato-oblong, with disunited
filaments. Wings of moderate length, very broad; the first quill very short,
being ten and a half twelfths shorter than the second, which is four-twelfths
shorter than the third, the fifth longest but scarcely exceeding the fourth,
which is one-twelfth longer than the third. Tail long, graduated, of twelve
moderately stiff pointed feathers, of which the lateral are eight-twelfths
shorter than the middle.
Upper mandible brownish-black, lower flesh-coloured, with the tip dusky.
Iris brown. Feet light reddish-brown, claws yellowish-grey. The upper parts
are reddish-brown, the head darker, the rump light brownish-red; all the
feathers with a central dull whitish streak. Wings deep brown, the coverts
tipped, the secondary coverts barred at the base with dull yellow, of which a
broad band in the midst of a brownish-black space crosses both webs of the
quills, excepting the inner webs of the outer four, and the outer webs of the
outer three; most of the quills have also a greyish-yellow patch along the outer
web toward the tip, which is dull white, the tail-feathers are yellowish-brown,
with shafts of the same colour, the webs darker toward the end. A silvery white
band passes over the eye; the cheeks are dark brown; the lower parts are
silvery-white, the sides tinged with brown.
Length to end of tail 5 1/2 inches; to end of wings 4; to end of claws
4 1/4; extent of wings 8 1/2; bill along the ridge (7 1/4)/12, along the edge of
lower mandible 10/12, wing from flexure 2 7/12; tail 2 9/12; tarsus (6 3/4)/12;
hind toe (3 1/2)/12, its claw (5 1/2)/12; middle toe (5 3/4)/12, its claw
The Female is considerably smaller, and generally of a darker colour, but
Length to end of tail 5 1/2 inches, to end of wings 4 1/4, to end of claws
4 1/2; extent of wings 8; bill along the ridge (6 1/2)/12.
The shafts and webs of the tail are somewhat undulated so as to give the
appearance of their being barred with dusky. Younger individuals have the rump
less red. Some have the lower parts almost pure white, while in others they are
dusky white, being soiled by matter rubbed from the trees.
On comparing four fresh and several dried specimens shot near Edinburgh,
with eight dried specimens from America, one of which is from the Columbia
river, I can find nothing on which to found a specific distinction.
The roof of the mouth is flat, but the mandible concave; the posterior
aperture of the nares linear, margined with two rows of papillae. The tongue is
slender, decurved, long, measuring 6 1/2 twelfths, deeply emarginate and
papillate at the base, concave above, horny in the greater part of its length,
and tapering to a point. The oesophagus is 1 inch 8 twelfths long, of moderate
width, its average diameter 1 1/2 twelfths, without dilatation. The
proventriculus is enlarged to 2 twelfths. The stomach is a muscular gizzard, of
a somewhat elliptical form, 5 twelfths long, 4 1/2 twelfths in breadth; its
lateral muscles very strong, the tendons of moderate size; the epithelium thin,
tough, longitudinally rugous, reddish-brown. The contents of the stomach are
remains of insects of various kinds, and one large particle of quartz. The
intestine is short, being only 4 1/2 inches long; its greatest diameter 1
twelfth; the rectum is dilated; the coeca, which come off at the distance of 5
twelfths from the extremity, are 1/2 twelfth long, and 1/4 twelfth in breadth.