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Marbled Murrelet Brachyramphus marmoratus


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Marbled Murrelets, molting from summ to winter plumage
credit: Gus Van Vliet

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Family: Alcidae, Auks, Murres, Puffins view all from this family

Description ADULT SUMMER Has rufous brown upperparts and paler marbled brown underparts. ADULT WINTER Has black back, wings, cap, and narrow dark line down nape, with otherwise whitish plumage. Note white scapular feathers and white spot in front of eye. JUVENILE Similar to winter adult, but white elements of plumage have faint brown marbling.

Dimensions Length: 9 1/2-10" (24-25 cm)

Endangered Status The subspecies of the Marbled Murrelet that lives in North America, Brachyramphus marmoratus marmoratus, is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as threatened in California, Oregon, and Washington. The main threats to this species have come from the timber industry, which has cut down perhaps 90 percent of the old-growth forests the murrelet nests in. The species currently continues to decline, while timber interests still log the old-growth forests, assuming the birds will simply nest elsewhere. Murrelets belong to a family of birds that maintain a strong fidelity to historical nesting areas; it is not known whether murrelets will move to another area if their particular stand of trees is destroyed. Oregon's Department of Forestry has proposed a long-term logging plan that calls for culling some but not all trees in old-growth forests; many environmentalists think disturbing the ecosystem in this way could be the end for this species in Oregon.

Habitat Locally common, but declining due to forest destruction and fishing activities. Nests in old-growth forest, often well inland. At other times, always found at sea.

Observation Tips Hard to observe, other than at sea.

Range California, Northwest, Alaska, Western Canada

Voice Utters piercing squeals near nest.

Similar Species Kittlitz's Murrelet B. brevirostris (L 9-10 in), an Alaskan specialty, is smaller; in summer, belly is white; in winter largely white face contrasts with narrow black crown. See also Long-billed Murrelet (p.400).

Discussion Compact alcid. Swims buoyantly with tail cocked up; flies on whirring wingbeats. Upper margin of bill follows line of sloping forehead. Sexes are similar.