Marbled Murrelet

Scientific Name: 
Brachyramphus marmoratus
Size: 
10” average length
Habitat: 
Calm coastal waters and bays
Status: 
State and federally threatened species

About

The marbled murrelet is a member of the auk family, which includes birds like auklets, guillemots, and puffins. These sea-birds are small — only about the size of a robin — and get their name from the marbling pattern of black, gray and white that covers their backs during the non-breeding season. When murrelets are breeding, they molt to a plain brown plumage.

For years, the nesting habits of the marbled murrelet were confusing to the scientific community, as they leave their coastal homes and fly more than 30 miles inland in order to roost in the highest reaches of old-growth forests. These birds form lifelong breeding pairs when they're at sea feeding on small, schooling fish, such as herring.

Why the Murrelet Needs Our Help

Secure nesting habitat is imperative for the survival of these threatened birds. Years of old-growth logging in the Pacific Northwest has destroyed many of the birds' important nesting trees, and local marbled murrelet populations have struggled as a result. Decline in numbers lead the to their listing as a threatened species in 1992.

With already high chick mortality, increased predation of chicks by crows, ravens and jays — species which become more abundant as forests grow more and more fragmented due to logging — has been a significant contribution to an annual population decline of four to seven percent over the last few decades.

There is still hope, however, for this elusive bird: the work that Oregon Wild and other groups are doing to protect old-growth forests forests plays a major role in the recovery of this threatened species.

Did you know?

  • The first marbled murrelet nest in North America was not discovered until 1974.
  • Marbled murrelet flight speeds have been recorded at velocities as high as 100 mph.
  • After a little more than a month in the nest, the marbled murrelet chick leaves the nest and flies to the ocean by itself.

See more marbled murrelet photos here. 

Photo Credits: 
Photo courtesy of US Geological Services, photo by Rich Macintosh