Wildlife of the Week!

©Five Star Whale Watching/ Andrew Lees. A Common Murre in immature or non-breeding (adult) plumage is seen drifting on the surface of the Salish Sea.

Every Salish Sea species is important no matter how small, and that’s why we’ve decided to highlight a favourite seabird of ours for this “Wildlife of the Week.” Has anyone heard of the Common Murre before? Relatives of the Common Murre include other Murres as well as Auks and Puffins. They are a medium sized seabird that depends on the ocean for their survival, capable of diving great depths. Did you know that Common Murres can be found on both the West and East Coasts of Canada? 

If you know any interesting facts about the Common Murre, share them below!

The Common Murre is roughly the size of a crow, and both males and females measure 38-43 cm long and weigh in around 800-1125 g. The penguin-like seabird has a pointed bill that is relatively slender. The colour morphs of the species vary depending on whether the bird is an adult or immature, and also whether it is within its breeding plumage. 

When young (or outside of breeding), the bird has more of a mottled appearance in terms of its plumage (see above). As an adult in breeding, the bird will have a dark brown head and back with a  uniform white underside and neck. Some variations of the species have a white eye-ring. 

The Common Murre frequents both the West and East coasts of North America from Alaska to California (typically further north on the East Coast), and the species does appear to show variations in habitat distributions (e.g. breeding/ non-breeding, year-round sites). 

This Murre depends on nesting locations that are close to the sea, forming colonies on rocky cliffs, ledges and flat rock areas. No building of a nest is involved, and care involves feeding from both parents to the one offspring that is laid and hatched. The offspring is estimated to fly at 50-70 days, and is incubated for 26-39 days. 

The Common Murre is a diving bird, capable of achieving depths to 150 feet in order to locate prey. The species feeds on invertebrates like crustaceans and squid, as well as fish (e.g. herring, sandlance). The bird uses its powerful wings in order to propel it through the sea once it has left the surface. 

An interesting quality regarding the eggs of this Murre is that they are highly variable in colour and are all a distinct shape. The variations of colours such as green, tan, white and black on the eggs might assist parents in telling their own egg apart. Common Murre eggs are designed to roll in a circle (pointed at an end), thus possibly preventing them from rolling off their nest at heights. 

The Common Murre, as many seabirds are, is at risk when faced with environmental contamination such as oil spills, as well as gill-net fishing and climate change. The species has become diminished slightly on the West Coast, but the Common Murre still appears to be a successful and abundant seabird.

If you are feeling like a Murre expert, check out this trivia below and test your knowledge! 

  1. True or False? A Common Murre was recorded to be 27 years old. (ANS: TRUE). 
  2. True or False? The Common Murre can stand as soon as it has hatched. (ANS: FALSE. The hatchling will stand at a day old). 
  3. The Common Murre has a mating display. (ANS: TRUE. Before mating, the pair will exercise a display that follows; pointing bills upward, bowing deeply, clashing open bills, preening and an offering of fish (usually by the female). 

BONUS CHALLENGE: Name one (or a few) relative (s) of the Common Murre (i.e. in Family Alcidae). 

e.g. Dovekie, Thick-Billed Murre, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, and others. 

Author: Alexa D./ Five Star Whale Watching

See our References to learn even more about this seabird! 

“Common Murre.” Guide to North American Birds. Audubon. https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/common-murre

“Common Murre.” The Cornell Lab. Cornell University. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Murre/overview

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