A Sweet Voice Among the Complainers

Brown creeper by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Christopher Shaw calls chickadees, crows, ravens and other creatures that keep Adirondackers company year-round “the irritable complainers and elusive tricksters.” They mock huskily from the trees as we share their snowy nowheres.

At this point in a long winter it is hard to remember that other seasons even exist. But in March a delicate new sound signals greener days. The falling and rising song of the brown creeper is as fluid and clear as maple sap.

The sound catches me so out of the blue that I used to think creepers were returned migrants. But the tiny bark-colored birds are with us all winter—they’re just quiet and discreet. Sometimes they even huddle together for warmth, according to the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior.

Come longer days brown creepers are more often heard than seen, but they are the mousey shapes you may have noticed climbing up the trunks of big trees (nuthatches climb down). They poke at the bark with narrow curved beaks, hunting insects and spiders.

The other startling but welcome sound this time of year is the red-winged blackbird. Even though it may be the most abundant bird in North America, the red-wing’s onk-a-ree call breaks the Adirondack quiet like a message from an alien world.

The birds return in flocks from the southern U.S. with remarkable regularity in March, but the date varies. The earliest record at the Paul Smith’s College VIC is March 9, according to resident naturalist Brian McAllister.

You can help map the return of the red-winged blackbird at Journey North, an online citizen science project.

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