Short-toed treecreeper: the bird profiles

Hannah
Hannah
Hannah
Hannah

I am particularly interested in garden wildlife which is why I did my Master's degree with a focus on "animal ecology". I am convinced that beneficial insects and wildlife are a sustainable and effective alternative to many of the products we use on our plants. I am also a passionate birdwatcher and rarely go for a walk without my binoculars.

Favourite fruit: kiwi, apple and redcurrant
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What is the difference between the short-toed treecreeper and the Eurasian treecreeper? How do you identify these nimble songbirds and what do their nests look like? Here is everything you need to know about the short-toed treecreeper.

Short-toed treecreeper on tree
Short-toed treecreepers always move in an upwards motion up a tree

The short-toed treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla) is a small perching bird known as a passeriform. Its brown patterned plumage perfectly camouflages it in trees, making it difficult to spot. When foraging, however, treecreepers are easy to observe as they flit along tree trunks and branches in a distinctively jerky way. Generally, short-toed treecreepers always move in an upwards motion up trees, then when they reach the top of a tree, they fly to the next one, landing near the trunk. From here, they once again make their way upward. Read on to find out more about this nimble bird, including how to distinguish it from its closest relative, the Eurasian treecreeper, and what you can do to help support this bird in your garden.

Short-toed treecreeper: key facts

SizeAround 12 – 13 cm
WeightAround 11 g
Breeding seasonApril – July
LifespanApproximately 5 years
HabitatMature woodlands, parks and gardens with old trees
Food preferencesInsects, spiders and tree seeds
ThreatsDecline in natural habitat and food supply

How to recognise the short-toed treecreeper

Short-toed treecreepers are small, inconspicuous birds. Their plumage has a brown-grey pattern on the upper side, while the underside from the throat down to the belly is off-white. They have a faint, light eye stripe and a long, narrow, curved bill. They use their long brown tails for support when moving up a tree trunk.

Male and female short-toed treecreepers are practically impossible to tell apart just by looking at them. It is also difficult to distinguish between juvenile and adult treecreepers as the former so closely resemble their parents.

Resting short-toed creeper
Short-toed treecreepers are inconspicuous birds [Photo: Martin Pelanek/ Shutterstock.com]

How to tell the difference between short-toed creepers and Eurasian treecreepers

The short-toed treecreeper is often mistaken for its closest relative, the Eurasian treecreeper. Although there are certain characteristics that distinguish the species from one another, these are not always clear and can vary from bird to bird. One such characteristic is the narrow, pointed beak, which is much longer in the short-toed treecreeper than the Eurasian treecreeper. Furthermore, the Eurasian treecreeper usually has a lighter belly and a longer hind toe. Experts also note differences in the wing patterns, but you would have to look very closely to notice these.

Tip: The best way to tell the difference between a short-toed treecreeper and Eurasian treecreeper is not by their appearance, but by their call.

Treecreeper on tree
Short-toed treecreepers have a shorter beak and a distinct eye stripe [Photo: Morten Ekstroem/ Shutterstock.com]

What does a short-toed treecreeper’s song sound like?

The short-toed treecreeper’s song consists of a verse of high, fine whistling notes that form a small trill in the middle: “Tweetutwee-too-tititit”. In addition to this distinctive song, the short-toed treecreeper also has a few calls that sound just as high and fine and consist of single, clear whistling notes.

How to identify a short-toed treecreeper egg

Short-toed treecreeper eggs are white with fine, red-brown speckles and about 1.5 centimetres in size. A clutch usually consists of four to six eggs, which the mother lays in a nest made of twigs, moss or blades of grass. The nest is also lined with fine feathers and animal hair.

What is the perfect habitat for short-toed treecreepers?

Short-toed treecreepers love large, old trees. They are therefore commonly found in deciduous forests or orchards, but also in large parks or gardens with mature trees. Other possible habitats are cemeteries, semi-open landscapes with smaller or larger groups of trees, or avenues lined with trees.

Avenue lined with trees
Short-toed creepers feel right at home on avenues lined with mature trees [Photo: Hartmut Goldhahn/ Shutterstock.com]

Where do short-toed treecreepers build their nests?

Short-toed treecreepers build cup-shaped nests from a wide variety of materials. They like to build them in tree cracks, wall crevices or nooks in buildings, often hidden with protruding bark. Both breeding partners of the short-toed treecreepers contribute to building the nest.

When is the breeding season for short-toed treecreepers?

The short-toed treecreepers’ breeding season begins in April when they lay their first eggs. The female incubates the eggs for about two weeks. Once the young birds have hatched, they are fed around the clock by both parents for another fortnight. After the young have flown the nest, the parents only continue to care for them for a few weeks before leaving them to fend for themselves.

Where do short-toed treecreepers spend winter?

While short-toed treecreepers are rare vagrants in England, they are considered resident birds on the Channel Islands, where they will stay in winter. They are also common in some areas in Europe. Although short-toed treecreepers are normally solitary creatures, during particularly cold periods they will form small groups of up to 20 birds to help keep each other warm.

Short-toed treecreeper feeding
In winter, these nimble birds appreciate additional food, such as fat balls [Photo: Corinna John/ Shutterstock.com]

Help the short-toed treecreeper!

In areas where they are common, short-toed treecreepers are seen in domestic gardens. Read on to find out how you could make your garden more inviting for these little birds.

What do short-toed treecreepers eat?

Short-toed treecreepers change their diet depending on the season. In summer and during the breeding season, they mainly eat insects and other small animals, which they pick out from between bark crevices. In winter, when the insect supply decreases, they will also eat small tree seeds.

Treecreeper looking for food
Treecreepers usually look for food directly on the trunk between bark crevices

Depending on where you live, you may see the odd short-toed treecreeper in your garden in winter if you have a feeding station. Treecreepers and many other birds like to help themselves to fatty foods.

Which birdhouses are suitable for garden treecreepers?

If you would like to offer treecreepers a nest box in your garden, bear in mind that these small climbers have particular demands when it comes to artificial nesting places. Treecreeper nest boxes are similar to some other nest boxes, but are completely closed at the front and have only a small entrance slit of about 7 cm on the side towards the back.

What else can you do to support short-toed treecreepers?

Plant-based food and bird feed is the treecreeper’s favourite food in winter. To support this small songbird in summer and during the breeding season, on the other hand, you should create an insect-friendly garden. This is of course beneficial to other garden birds, too. To help prevent wild birds from potential poisoning through the food chain, avoid using chemicals in your garden.

In summer, all garden birds appreciate a birdbath. You can easily convert a shallow bowl or plant saucer into a birdbath. Just make sure you clean it regularly to help prevent the spread of aviary diseases. This risk is particularly high on hot days, which is why you should ideally clean water bowls, bird baths and feeding stations on a daily basis during the summer months.

The short-toed treecreeper may not be common in your area, but the goldcrest can be seen in the UK all year round. Goldcrests are the UK’s smallest bird and, just like treecreepers, like to hunt for insects on trees.

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