AUSTRALASIAN TREECREEPERS Climacteridae
- 7 species in Australasia
- DR personal total: 5 species (71%), 2 photo'd
Treecreepers are a small family composed of 7 species in two genera.
One species inhabits the mountains of New Guinea (Papuan Treecreeper Cormobates placens)
and the rest are restricted to Australia. As the name suggests, this
group fills the "creeper" niche in Australasia, working up the main
trunks and branches of Australian woodlands. Brown Treecreeper
(left in a picturesque pose by Murray Lord) prefers eucalyptus groves
but is found in a wide variety of open woodlands in eastern and
southeastern Australia. It often feeds on fallen branches and logs,
bobbing its tail when resting. It, like the rest of the Australia
species, has a broad orange wingstripe seen in flight.
At least four of the five species of Climacteris are communal breeders: Brown, Rufous, Black-tailed C. melanura, and Red-browed C. erythrops. In Rufous Treecreeper (below)
groups of up to 6 birds consist of a breeding pair, their male and
(rarely) female offspring from the prior year, and sometimes even
non-breeding birds from adjacent territories, all of which aid in
feeding the incubating female and the nestlings (Noske 1980, 2007).
White-browed Treecreeper (right, in another shot by Murray Lord) is perhaps the least known member of genus Climacteris.
of grass, feathers, and mammal fur are concealed in hollows of stumps
and trees. A problem faced by all Australian Treecreepers is that they
require a hole in which to nest, but there are no woodpeckers in
Australasia to make holes. Tree hollows only develop with microbial and
termite action, which can take a hundred years to create a suitable
cavity. Such cavities are at a premium, and are both staunchly defended
and used in successive years. Artificial cavities are sometimes used —
"ventilation pipes, chimneys, hollow fence posts, nestboxes, and even,
on occasion, an old kettle!" (Noske 2007).
forage on the trunks and branches as the bird ascends using only its
feet (they do not use their tail as a prop, as do Holarctic
treecreepers or woodpeckers). Insects are taken from bark crevices.
(below, another nice Murray Lord photo) spends a lot of time on the
ground, and ants are a primary prey. In stomach content studies from NE
New South Wales, ants and their larvae represented up to 95% of the
Because of their behavior, many early taxonomies placed the Climacteridae near the Holarctic treecreepers, the Spotted Creeper (Salpornis) of Africa and India, and the Philippine creepers (Rhabdornis).
It is now known that they are not related to any of these birds; their
tree-climbing behavior is an example of convergent evolution. Their
"non-relationship" with other "creepers" globally was not sorted out
until the 1960s, and their true taxonomic position not until the 1980s.
Australian Treecreepers have a distinctive
syndactylous foot structure, in which the "anterior digits 2 and 3 are
bound together by a membrane to the end of the 1st phalanx on digit 2,
and digits 3 and 4 are joined to the base of the 3rd phalanx on digit.
This condition of the foretoes apparently allows them to act in concert
with the hallux as the bird creeps on trunks and branches" (Sibley et
al. 1984). It is clear that Australasian Treecreepers are part of the
great Australasian radiation, but their exact position is still unclear
(Noske 2007). The initial DNA-DNA hybridization data suggested that
they were most closely related to lyrebirds, scrub-birds, and
bowerbirds (Sibley & Ahlquist 1990).
Photos: Murray Lord photographed the top Brown Treecreeper Climacteris picumnus (nominate picumnus) Brown Treecreeper in Gluepot Reserve, South Australia, in October 2012, and the bottom (race victoriae) in the Capertee Valley, New South Wales, Australia, in June 2011. The Rufous Treecreeper C. rufa was photographed in the Dryandra Forest, Western Australia, in Aug 2008. Murray Lord photographed the White-browed Treecreeper C. affinis near Bowra Station, Queensland, in Sep 2010.
Uncredited photos © Don Roberson; credited photos © Murray Lord, as credited, and used with permission; all rights reserved.
there is no "family book" covering the Climacteridae, but the family is
very well covered, with text and photos, in Noske (2007).
M., S.J.J.F. Davies, and P. N. Reilly. 1984. The Atlas of Australian
Birds. Royal Australian Ornith. Union, Melbourne Univ. Press, Carlton,
Noske, R.A. 1980. Cooperative breeding by treecreepers. Emu 80: 35-36.
R.A. 2007. Family Climacteridae (Australian Treecreepers), pp. 642-661
in Handbook of the Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, and
D.A. Christie, eds.). Vol. 12. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
C.G., and J.E. Ahlquist. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds: A
Study in Molecular Evolution. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT.
C.G., R. Schodde, and J.E. Ahlquist. 1984. The relationships of the
Australo-Papuan treecreepers (Climacteridae) as indicated by DNA-DNA
hybridization. Emu 84: 235-241.
Simpson, K, and
N. Day. 1996. A Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, revised 5th ed.
Penguin Books Australia Ltd., Ringwood, Victoria, Australia.