Indian spotted creeper

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Indian spotted creeper
Spotted Creeper.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Certhiidae
Subfamily: Salpornithinae
Genus: Salpornis
Species: S. spilonota
Binomial name
Salpornis spilonota
(Franklin, 1831)[2]
Salpornis spilonotus map.svg
  • Certhia spilonota protonym
  • Salpornis spilonotus

The Indian spotted creeper (Salpornis spilonota) is a small passerine bird, which is a member of the subfamily Salpornithinae which is placed along with the treecreepers in the family Certhiidae. This small bird has a marbled black and white plumage that makes it difficult to spot as it forages on the trunks of dark, deeply fissured trees where it picks out insect prey using its curved bill. It is found in patchily distributed localities mainly in the dry scrub and open deciduous forests of northern and central peninsular India. It does not migrate. Their inclusion along with the treecreepers is not certain and some studies find them more closely related to the nuthatches while others suggest a close relation to the wallcreeper. They lack the stiff tail feathers of treecreepers and do not use their tail for supporting them while creeping vertically along tree trunks.


The Indian spotted creeper has grey and white spotted and barred plumage, clearly different from the treecreepers of the subfamily Certhiinae. It weighs up to 16 grams, twice as much as treecreepers of similar length (up to 15 cm). The Indian spotted creeper has a thin pointed down-curved bill, a bit longer than the head, that it uses to extricate insects from bark, but it lacks the stiff tail feathers which treecreepers use to prop themselves on the vertical surface of tree trunks. They have a whitish supercilium contrasting with a dark eye stripe and white on the throat.[3][4] The wing is long and pointed with a highly reduced first primary feather. The tail has twelve feathers and is square tailed. The sexes are identical in plumage.[5][6][7]

The tarsus is stout and they have a long hind claw (average 8.9 ± 0.48 (s.d.) mm). The bill is 25.9±1.29 mm, the length of the wing is 88.5±2.76 mm and the tail is 53.8±2.05 mm long.[8]

Classification and naming[edit]

This species was first described by Major James Franklin in 1831 who provided a brief description in Latin and placed it in the genus Certhia as Certhia spilonota while noting that the tail feathers were not stiff as is typical for the genus.[2] George Robert Gray at the British Museum erected the genus Salpornis and placed this species in it as Salpornis spilonota. When similar species were found in Africa, they were added as subspecies of the Indian species. It was only in 2010 that molecular, morpholological and vocal differences were studied, which resulted in the African species being considered distinct species.[8] Scholars of nomenclature emended the ending spilonota which is suited for the feminine gender Certhia to the masculine form spilonotus to match the placement in the genus Salpornis.[9] In 2014, Dickinson & Christidis cited the rule that the species group epithet is invariable, so the species name was changed back to the spelling used in the original description as spilonota.[10] Older works use the name "spotted grey creeper".[5]

The genus itself is placed in the family Certhiidae despite being significantly different from other members. Molecular studies show ambiguity in their relations to the nuthatches in the genus Sitta to which they may be closer or to the genus Tichodroma, which are basal within the superfamily Certhioidea.[8][11]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Feeding behaviour of the spotted creeper

The African spotted creeper was formerly considered conspecific.[8] Together they were called spotted creeper. The Indian species is nowhere common but is found in locations scattered around parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat,[12] Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, central India (Bandhavgarh,[13] Jabalpur,[14] Bastar district[15][16]) Orissa,[17][18] northern Andhra Pradesh (Adilabad,[19] Kawal Wildlife Sanctuary[20]). In the past the slightly paler plumaged population in the arid zone of the Aravalli hills was separated as a subspecies rajputanae by Richard Meinertzhagen (and his wife)[21] but this is treated as part of a single population and combined into a single (nominate) subspecies.[4]

The species is found mainly in habitats having trees with deeply fissured bark including those of Acacia, Diospyros, Tectona and mango.[4][5]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

The species is found singly or in mixed species flocks, foraging on the trunks of trees. It has an undulating flight and moves up the trunk, starting off from near the base, sometimes on horizontal branches. When flying down to the base of a tree, it has the clumsy appearance of a quail landing in grass. They resemble nuthatches in the way they work up and down the trunk and do not work in the spiral manner of treecreepers.[5] The tail is held away and sometimes clings upside down. They feed on small insects and spiders on the bark.[4]

Their calls are a series of rising tui-tui-tui notes and the song is a plaintive series of whistled notes tsip-tsee tuu tuui-tuwee having the quality of that of sunbird.[4][5]

The breeding season is February to May. The nest is a cup made of roots and stalks placed at the junction of a horizontal branch and the vertical trunk, often near a knot or other outgrowth that makes it very difficult to spot. The nest walls are pliant and soft but strong. The surface is decorated with spider webs, caterpillar frass and lichen. The inner lining is made from spider webs and other fine material. The usual clutch consists of two eggs, which are greenish or gray, spotted darker brown and blotched pale. The female alone incubates the eggs and is fed by the male with which it keeps in contact with a twittering call. Both parents take part in feeding the chicks.[4][22][23]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Salpornis spilonota". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 16 July 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Franklin, James (1831). "[Catalogue of birds]". Proceedings of the Committee of Science and Correspondence of the Zoological Society of London: 114–125. 
  3. ^ Rasmussen, PC; JC Anderton (2005). Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. Volume 2. Washington DC and Barcelona: Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions. p. 543. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Harrap. S. (2008). "Family Certhiidae (Treecreepers).". In del Hovo. J.; Elliott, A.; Christie, D.A. Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 13. Penduline-tits to shrikes. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. pp. 166–195. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Ali, S; S.D. Ripley (1998). Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan. volume 9. Robins to Wagtails. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. pp. 233–235. 
  6. ^ Oates, Eugene W. (1889). The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 1. London: Taylor and Francis. p. 333. 
  7. ^ Baker, E.C.S. (1922). "The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 1." (2nd ed.). London: Taylor and Francis: 439. 
  8. ^ a b c d Tietze, Dieter Thomas; Martens, Jochen (2010). "Intraspecific differentiation in Spotted Creepers, Salpornis spilonotus (Aves:Passeriformes:Certhiidae)" (PDF). Vertebrate Zoology. 60 (2): 163–170. 
  9. ^ David, N.; Gosselin, M. (2002). "Gender agreement of avian species names.". Bull. Brit. Orn. Club. 122: 14–49. 
  10. ^ Dickinson, E.C.; Christidis, L. (2014). The Howard & Moore Complete Checklist of Birds of the World, Vol. 2. Passerines. 4th. edition. Aves Press. 
  11. ^ Johansson, Ulf S.; Fjeldså, Jon; Bowie, Rauri C.K. (2008). "Phylogenetic relationships within Passerida (Aves: Passeriformes): A review and a new molecular phylogeny based on three nuclear intron markers" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 48 (3): 858–876. PMID 18619860. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2008.05.029. 
  12. ^ Butler, E.A. (1876). "Notes on the avifauna of Mount Aboo and Northern Guzerat". Stray Feathers. 4: 1–41. 
  13. ^ Tyabji, HN (1989). "A brief introduction to the birds of Bandhavgarh National Park.". Newsletter for Birdwatchers. 29 (9-10): 3–5. 
  14. ^ LeMesurier, R.P. (1874). "[Letters to the Editor]". Stray Feathers. 2: 335. 
  15. ^ Blanford, William T. (1869). "Ornithological notes, chiefly on some birds of Central, Western and Southern India". The journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal: 164–191. 
  16. ^ Blanford, W.T. (1867). "[Letters]". Ibis. 2. 3: 461–464. 
  17. ^ Ball, Valentine (1877). "Notes on some birds collected in Sambalpur and Orissa". Stray Feathers. 4: 231–237. 
  18. ^ Ball, V. (1880). Jungle Life in India. London: Thomas De La Rue & Co. p. 312. 
  19. ^ Majumdar, N (1984). "On a collection of birds from Adilabad district, Andhra Pradesh". Rec. zool.Surv. Ind. Misc. Pub. Occ. Paper No 65. 
  20. ^ Srinivasulu, C. (2004). "Birds of Kawal Wildlife Sanctuary, Andhra Pradesh, India". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 101 (1): 3–25. 
  21. ^ Meinertzhagen, R; Meinertzhagen, A C (1926). "[descriptions of six new races of birds from Indian and the Himalayas]". Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 46: 83–86. 
  22. ^ Mead, Christopher J. (2003). "Holarctic Treecreepers". In Perrins, Christopher. The Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds. Firefly Books. pp. 538–540. ISBN 1-55297-777-3. 
  23. ^ Hume, Allan O. (1889). The nests and eggs of Indian birds. Volume 1. (2nd ed.). London: R.H. Porter. pp. 220–221. 

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