The Marbled Murrelet is a small, stout-bodied auk measuring up to 10 inches (25 cm) in length with a narrow bill. Adults with non-breeding plumage typically have a white belly and chest with black coloring over the head, neck and back. Breeding plumage is more of a speckled brown over the body and face. The bird greatly resembles – and was once thought to be the same species – as the Long-billed Murrelet (Brachyramphus perdix), but they were designated as different animals in 1998.
A pelagic seabird, the murrelet will forage offshore or in bays and other coastal areas for fish and invertebrates. Occasionally they will be found feeding at inland lakes. Hunting usually occurs in mated pairs but this species rarely flocks in large numbers.
The Marbled Murrelet can be found in coastal areas from Alaska to central California. The nesting habits of these birds were not fully understood or described until the 1990s when it was confirmed that they used trees in old growth forests. They can be found mostly in coastal areas dominated by Douglas-fir, Mountain Hemlock, Western Redcedar, and Sitka Spruce. In Washington and Oregon however, the bird has been found nesting sometimes as much as 35 miles (56 km) inland if the habitat is appropriate. Adults will travel this distance daily to hunt for Pacific Herring and Shiner Perch offshore.
The Murrelet’s habitat was greatly reduced due to extensive logging in old growth forests beginning in the nineteenth century. As the tall trees the bird uses for nesting were removed, the bird’s numbers diminished dramatically. It has since become one of the more high-profile species used by the conservation community when advocating for the preservation of old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest.
This species was listed as a Threatened Species in Oregon in 1992.
Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service.