Marbled Murrelet

Marbled murrelet by OSU
Scientific Name
Brachyramphus marmoratus

10” average length

Calm coastal waters and bays

State endangered and federally threatened species


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 led to their federal 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. However, Oregon Wild and other groups are working hard to ensure we preserve remaining old growth forests for the marbled murrelet and other species that depend on mature forests for habitat.

In 2016, Oregon Wild and partners petitioned the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to uplist the Marbled Murrelet from threatened to endangered status under the state Endangered Species Act. Soon thereafter ODFW produced a biological assessment report which was sound, defensible, peer reviewed, and furthermore, underscored the significant population decline of Marbled Murrelets in Oregon. That report, coupled with independent scientific input and support from the public, were the basis for the Commission voting in February of 2018 to reclassify the species as endangered. A celebratory moment was had by all!   

Unfortunately, that celebration was short-lived. Four months later, and in a land far far away from actual Marbled Murrelet habitat (Baker City), the Commission decided to capitulate to logging interests and reverse their decision. This turn of events was both unprecedented and, as it turns out, illegal. 

In response, Oregon Wild and our fellow petitioners filed a lawsuit. About a year later, an Oregon judge ruled on our litigation. As we’d argued,  the Commission violated Oregon law when they reversed their decision without proper notification or administrative process. As such, the decision was remanded to the Commission for reconsideration– which would eventually take place in July, 2021. 

At the request of the Commission, agency staff was asked to review and update the previous biological assessment with current scientific information or data.  Because ODFW was scared of the blowback they’d receive if they produced a scientifically sound report that recommended uplisting, this time they did the opposite. So what was their opinion? Don’t reclassify the species as endangered.

Luckily, and somewhat to our surprise, the Commission disagreed. On July 9, 2021 the Commission voted 4-3 to uplist the Marbled Murrelet to endangered status. Not only would this ensure the creation and adoption of an endangered species recovery plan, but also that the species would get mandatory survival guidelines — a stopgap measure used to prevent further decline of the species — in the meantime.

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.

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