Unlike our resident treecreeper, also known as the common or Eurasian treecreeper, the short-toed treecreeper is an extremely rare visitor to our shores generally venturing no closer than the Channel Islands and France.
An extremely well camouflaged bird when active within its chosen environment foraging on tree trunks, the short-toed treecreeper has pale grey brown underparts and a bright white throat patch. The upper parts are a dull speckled brown with white streaks and a plain light brown tail. The short-toed treecreeper has pale brown feet and a long thin slightly downwards curved bill with a dark brown upper mandible and paler brown or pinkish lower mandible with a dark tip. On top of the wing on the mantle below the nape of the neck and on the scapula the feathers have black tips with broad white centres. Primary and secondary flight feathers are brown. It has white wing bars which are similar but not identical to the common treecreeper and in fact it is very difficult indeed to tell the two birds apart on just physical features, plumage patternation and colour.
Close of up a Short-toed Treecreeper
Perhaps the easiest way to distinguish the short-toed treecreeper from the common treecreeper is by its song. Whereas the latter has an elongated almost flowing musical trill, the former has a clearer, louder more staccato contact call of ‘sreet’ or ‘sree’ and a short ‘wit’ during normal activity.
Short-toed Treecreeper Song / Call
Albert Noorlander, XC632118. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/632118.
Small spiders, insects and their eggs are the staple diet for the short-toed which it finds by foraging along the trunks and branches of trees using its bill as a probe.
In ornithological terms, birds described as vagrants are those which are found well beyond the limits of their natural range i.e. where they would not be expected to be observed.
Generally confined to south and south west continental Europe it is a very rare vagrant to the UK but if spotted is likely to be found in upland pine or conifer forests or their preferred lowland deciduous woods. In addition to spending most of the time foraging on tree trunks it can also be found foraging amongst rocks, a habit not observed of its common treecreeper cousin.
As previously stated, the short-toed is almost identical to the common treecreeper, and thus it is very difficult to differentiate between the two. Those characteristics unique to each species of treecreeper are so subtle that close examination will normally be required in order to positively identify the individual bird. For example, the edges of the wing bar pattern closest to the wing tip on the short-toed are triangular in shape, unlike the squarer shape on the common treecreeper. Imagine a bird’s wing being an arm with a hand at the end of it. As with all birds, the short-toed has an area of feathers known as the alula, also known as a bastard wing, which is similar to a thumb. The alula is located on the leading edge of the wing, where it forms a small protrusion consisting of 3 to 5 flight feathers. The pale border of the largest alula feather on the short-toed extends throughout the total outer edge, which would be unusual on a common treecreeper. More obvious signs are bolder white tips to wingtip feathers, a darker more brownish underneath and a bright white throat.
Nesting in a small bowl of grass and feathers, behind broken bark or in a crack or crevice, one brood of 5 or 6 eggs coloured white with reddish-purple blotches are laid between April to June and incubated by the female for two weeks. Chicks fledge up to eighteen days later. Occasionally a second brood is produced in another nest prepared before the first brood has fledged.
Life expectancy for the short-toed treecreeper is between two to three years.