Marbled Murrelet

At a Glance

  • Scientific Name: Brachyramphus marmoratus
  • Population: 358,000-417,500
  • IUCN Status: Endangered on the IUCN Red List
  • Trend:  Decreasing
  • Habitat: Breeds in old-growth coniferous forests or on the ground near the Pacific coast; winters at sea

Marbled Murrelet map, NatureServeThe breeding grounds of the elusive Marbled Murrelet went undiscovered until 1974, when a nest was found in California's Big Basin Redwood State Park. The murrelet shares its old-growth nesting habitat with other threatened birds such as the Northern Spotted Owl.

Commercial logging remains the biggest threat to this species' habitat. It was federally listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1992; it is also listed as Threatened under the Canadian Species at Risk Act.

Threats contributing to the Marbled Murrelet's decline include habitat changes caused by climate change. At sea, the bird's are threatened by oil spills and unsustainable practices in the fisheries industry, such as the use of gillnets. On land, Steller's Jays and Common Ravens prey on murrelet eggs and nestlings, particularly when fragmented forest habitat allows them easier access to nests.

Unique Nest

The Marbled Murrelet is the only member of its family (the Alcidae, auks and puffins) that nests in large trees, flying as far as 50 miles inland in search of suitable habitat. Its nest of lichen or moss is placed on a large, horizontal branch, and the single egg is incubated by both parents for about 30 days.

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Marbled Murrelet, winter, R. Lowe. USFWS

Marbled Murrelet, winter by R. Lowe. USFWS

Adults, whose mottled brown and white breeding plumage provides camouflage in the dappled forest canopy, shuttle between ocean and nest to feed their young, which remain in the nest longer than other alcids. Nestlings molt into black and white juvenile plumage before leaving the nest, and fly directly from the nest to the ocean.

Like other alcids, the Marbled Murrelet has short wings, which it uses to swim as deep as 300 feet underwater in search of small fish and invertebrates. They must flap their wings very quickly to fly and look like large bumblebees as they skim over the surface of the water. At sea, they are often found feeding in pairs near the shore.

Help for Murrelet Habitat

ABC recently submitted a comment letter in support of protecting Marbled Murrelet habitat in Washington, Oregon, and California. We're working to ensure that the murrelet benefits from proposed revisions to the Northwest Forest Plan, and we're speaking out against a plan from the Bureau of Land Management that would permit more clearcutting in the murrelet's already-scarce habitat.

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