The Marbled Murrelet has become a symbol of northwest conifer forests, nesting in mature stands up to a couple dozen miles from the ocean. Otherwise, it spends its life at sea. At 25 cm in length, it is one of our smaller seabirds, with very different summer and winter plumages: mottled brown overall in breeding plumage, and crisp black-and-white patterning in winter. It is quite similar to Kittlitz's and Long-billed Murrelets, though Marbled is the more expected species in North America. Kittlitz's, restricted to Alaska, is shorter-billed and has more white on the face in winter. Long-billed, a native of Siberia rarely seen in North America, has a longer bill and broader dark nape in winter.
Length: 25 (cm) Wingspan: 41 (cm)
Open ocean, often seen from shore; nests inland, high on mossy branches in mature forests.
Visits nest at night and flies out at dawn. Often seen in pairs or groups at sea. When sitting on the water, the neck is typically extended and the bill is pointed slightly upward.
Dives and swims to catch small fish.
These birds nest as far as 60 miles inland in British Columbia, and have been detected in the snow-zone forests above 4000' in the n. Washington Cascades. The Santa Cruz Mountains (CA) population, a somewhat genetically distinctive group that was once fairly large, is rapidly declining toward complete disappearance. The only region along the WA/OR/CA coast where statistically significant long-term decline has not occurred is between Coos Bay OR and Humboldt Bay CA (USFWS). After-hatch-year Marbled Murrelets can acquire basic plumage by mid-summer (according to the calendar): thus, a black-and-white bird in Aug is not necessarily a juvenile. On such a murrelet, look for remnant dusky feathers on the belly in the instant the bird dives, if views allow. Marbled Murrelets have been timed at up to 98 mph on radar (over-forest flights; Pacific Seabird Group) and are, as well, the fastest-flying small seabird typically observed on West Coast birding boat trips. Their posture afloat is quite plastic--they can sit with heads hunched down or else stretch the neck well up and look around for long moments. Birds in a feeding flock of 4-7 or so will customarily resurface from a dive in the same position on the water from which they dove.
Citation: Personal Experience. I observe this regularly, highly confident.
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|David Fix added a note to Marbled Murrelet Notes||7/02/2011 at 10:24PM|