Open main menu

Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/Black-and-white Creeper

90 Black & White Creeper.jpg


Certhia varia, Wils.


A more appropriate name has seldom been given to a bird than that by which the present species is designated. Notwithstanding the approximation of the bill in form to that of the Sylviæ, I am decidedly inclined to place this species among the Creepers or Certhiæ. To convince you of the propriety of such an arrangement, I shall now lay before you an account of its habits.

The Black-and-white Creeper appears in the State of Louisiana as soon as the buds on the trees begin to expand, which happens about the middle of February. It throws itself into the forests, where it breeds, and remains until the beginning of November. It is usually seen on the largest trees of our woods. It has a few notes, consisting of a series of rapidly enunciated tweets, the last greatly prolonged. It climbs and creeps along the trunks, the branches, and even the twigs of the trees, without intermission, and so seldom perches, that I do not remember ever having seen it in such a position. It lives principally on small ants and their larvæ, which it secures as it ascends or descends in a spiral direction, sidewise, with the head either uppermost or beneath. It keeps its feet close together, and moves by successive short hops with a rapidity equalling even that of the Brown Creeper. It dives from the tops of the trees to their roots, and again ascends. At other times, it alights on a decayed fallen tree, and searches the bark for food, peeping into the crevices. It has only a very short flight, and moves directly from one tree to the nearest.

In this manner the Black-and-white Creeper reaches the Northern Districts, It always prefers the most uncultivated tracts, and is especially fond of the pines and hemlock-trees of the mountain-glens. I have met with it on the borders of Canada, round Lake Champlain, in the country far to the north-west, on the banks of the Illinois, in Ohio, Kentucky, and all the wooded districts of the Arkansas and Red River.

In Louisiana, its nest is usually placed in some small hole in a tree, and is composed of mosses in a dry state, lined with cottony substances. The eggs are from five to seven, of a short oval form, white, with a few brownish-red spots chiefly at the large end.

Two broods are raised in the season. The young go about in company, following the parents, and it is not unusual to see nine or ten of these birds scrambling with great activity along the trunk of a tree. I have not found its nest in the Middle States, where, however, I am convinced many breed.

The young are similar in colouring to the females. The young males do not acquire their full plumage until the following spring.

A male of this species is represented on a twig of the tree commonly called the Black Larch.

Sylvia varia, Lath. Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 539.—Ch. Bonaparte, Synopsis of Birds of the United States, p. 81.

White-poll Warbler, Lath. Synops. vol. iv. p. 488.

Black-and-white Creeper, Certhia varia, Wils. Amer. Ornith. vol. iii. p. 23. Pl. xix. fig. 3.

Adult Male. Plate XC.

Bill rather long, slightly arched, compressed, extremely slender, acute; nostrils basal, narrow, half-closed by a membrane. General form slender. Feet of ordinary length, slender; tarsus longer than the middle toe, scutellate before; toes free, scutellate, the hind one proportionally larger; claws compressed, very acute, arched.

Plumage soft and blended. Wings of ordinary length, third quill longest, secondaries short. Tail nearly even, of twelve narrow, rounded feathers.

Bill black. Iris hazel. Feet dusky yellow. Middle of the head longitudinally white, bordered on each side by a broad stripe of black, beneath which, on each side, over the eye, is a line of white. Ear-coverts and chin black. Back and breast streaked with white and black. Wings black, the outer margins of the quills greyish-white, the tips of the larger coverts, excepting the primary ones, white, forming two broad bands of that colour across the wing. Tail black, tinged with bluish-grey externally, the ends of the inner webs of the three outer feathers on each side white. Abdomen white; sides and under tail-coverts white, spotted with black.

Length 5+12 inches, extent of wings 7+12; bill along the ridge 12.

The Black Larch.

Pinus pendula, Pursh, Flor. Amer. vol. ii. p. 645.—Monœcia Polyandria, Linn. Coniferæ, Juss.

Leaves fasciculate, deciduous; cones oblong, the margins of the scales inflected; bracteoles panduriform, with an attenuated tip. This species, which grows in cedar swamps, in the Northern States, attains a great size, and resembles the European Larch in appearance.