Brachyramphus marmoratus (Birds)
The Marbled Murrelet is a small diving seabird that knows how to keep a secret. First described as a distinct species in 1789, it took scientists nearly 200 years to find out where it breeds. It took that long because it turned out scientists were looking in the wrong places: most Marbled Murrelets don’t nest near the sea, but inland on large limbs in the canopy of old-growth forests. It is the only species in its family known to nest in trees.
Marbled Murrelets lay a single egg in a depression or cup made in moss or other debris on an old-growth tree limb. For the next month, both sexes incubate the egg in alternating 24-hour shifts. While one parent keeps the egg warm, the other flies back to sea to feed. When the chick hatches, it is fed up to eight times each day: and because the species feeds exclusively on small fish and marine invertebrates, this means a lot of long trips back and forth from the ocean for mom and dad.
For thousands of years, the Marbled Murrelet’s unique life history proved quite successful. However, beginning in the 1800s, rampant logging of old-growth forests began to eliminate the habitat the species needs to breed. Only a fraction of the coastal old-growth forests remain today, and the old-growth habitat that does remain is subject to concentrated predation pressure from jays, ravens, and other species. At the same time, humans have altered the critical marine environment that the Marbled Murrelet needs to survive, depleting fisheries and littering the ocean with deadly long-lines and ghost fishing gear. In light of the species’ decline and the myriad threats facing the remaining individuals, in 1992 the Marbled Murrelet was listed as a threatened “distinct population segment” in Washington, Oregon, and California under the Endangered Species Act. Populations in Canada and Alaska, which are slightly larger but still considered globally threatened, did not receive protection.
Marbled Murrelets are tough to spot in the GGNP, but with patience even a novice can find them. One of the best places to look is at Ocean Beach. Set up a sea watch for a few hours with your binoculars or a spotting scope. Keep an eye out for the Murrelets floating off-shore, or more likely flying with rapid, short wing-beats parallel to the beach.
Conservation Action Item
End oil spills:
Walk, bike, or take transit to work for a week
The Marbled Murrelet’s feeding habitats and range make it one of the sea birds most vulnerable to oil spills. Thousands of Marbled Murrelets were killed in the Exxon Valdez oil spill alone. As the recent spill from the Cosco Busan freighter in San Francisco Bay shows, oil spills can quickly travel along the coast, soiling our waters and decimating bird populations. Help protect Marbled Murrelets from oil spills by reducing fossil fuel consumption: bike, take public transit, or carpool to work for a week. Get a personalized estimate of how much money you’ll save, calories you’ll burn and CO2 emissions you’ll reduce with this fantastic car diet calculator.
Big Year Competitors have reported 0 sightings and taken 0 actions to help this species recover so far this year.
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