09.27.20: Brown Creeper

A Brown Creeper climbs a tree in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

A Brown Creeper climbs a tree in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

Photographing nature’s perpetual motion bird

There’s a good chance you’ve never seen this bird, even if you spend time hiking through forests like I do.

It’s a Brown Creeper, a tiny songbird that’s always in motion and is well camouflaged to blend with its environment.

The Brown Creeper is about the size of a wren, approximately five inches long from tip of its curved bill to the tip of its tail. It weighs about a third of an ounce.

The name “creeper” is descriptive of the bird’s behavior. It flies to the bottom of a tree trunk, then spirals (or creeps) its way up — keeping its white stomach pressed close to the bark — as it looks for insects and spiders hiding in the crevices. The Brown Creeper is constantly in motion, but it never climbs in a straight line. Instead, it works its way around the tree, continuing to spiral higher until it gets near the top. Then it flies down to the bottom of another tree trunk and repeats the process.

The brown and buff feathers on its back blend perfectly with tree bark. I have a number of photos of Brown Creepers taken from behind. The feather pattern makes it difficult to tell where the bird ends and the bark begins.

I’ve discovered the best technique to use when attempting to photograph a Brown Creeper is to see where the bird climbs behind the tree, then focus the camera about a foot higher on the other side and try to catch it when it comes back around.

That’s what happened here.

The bird had come back around the left side of the tree and I tracked it to the right, shooting constantly. Then it paused for an instant, lifted its body away from the bark and looked up for a brief second before disappearing to the other side of the tree and continuing its spiral path higher.

I have about a dozen photos of Brown Creepers, including several that have the bird in profile like in this shot. But in all those other photos the bird’s body is tight to the bark.

I got lucky this time.




Tech specs

  • Date/time: Nov. 20, 2006, 8:31 a.m.
  • Location: 40° 7' 9.3534" N 82° 57' 28.4142" W (Show in Google Maps)
  • Camera: Canon EOS 20D
  • Lens: Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm)
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter: 1/400th second
  • ISO: 800

I’ve discovered the best technique to use when attempting to photograph a Brown Creeper is to see where the bird climbs behind the tree, then focus the camera about a foot higher on the other side and try to catch it when it comes back around.