Adult upperparts are streaked with black, gray, and brown; underparts are white. The tail is stiff like a woodpecker’s, helping to prop up the creeper as it climbs trees. The bill is long and downcurved. The song is a high-pitched series of lispy whistles, “see-see-see-sese-see” or “tsi-ti-whe-tu-we,” also high-pitched “tsee” or “tsi” calls. Although usually detected first by their call, this cryptically colored species can be identified by its unique foraging behavior.
Similar species: White-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches have gray backs and not brown streaked; they generally move down trunks, often facing downward, and they do not use their tail as a prop.