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Marbled Murrelet: Interesting Facts

The marbled murrelet, which has recently come under attack by logging interests, is a fascinating creature. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Marbled murrelets are mysterious, shy, and elusive.
  • Once called "the enigma of the Pacific," the marbled murrelet was the last bird in the United States to have its nesting site discovered. This was in 1974 by a tree-trimmer high up on a Douglas fir tree in California. To this day, it is extremely rare to see an occupied murrelet nest.
  • Murrelets only come off the water under cover of darkness (at dawn or dusk), and fly up to 60 miles an hour, making sighting a challenge to land-based observers.
  • The murrelet is a small, long-lived (up to 25 years), diving seabird about the size of a robin.
  • Females lay only one egg per year.
  • During incubation, the female and male take turns sitting on the egg for 24-hour shifts.
  • The parents both share responsibility for bringing fish from the ocean back to the chick's nest in the old-growth forest.
  • Murrelets make their nests in natural depressions of large, moss-covered old-growth tree limbs. In fact, for the most part they don't actually build "nests," but simply deposit their individual eggs in these depressions.
  • Murrelet pairs return to the same forest grove each year and sometimes nest repeatedly in the same tree.
  • Parents stay with their newly hatched chick just one to two days, then leave the chick entirely alone, returning only to feed it.
  • A murrelet chick's first flight is critical. It must make it all the way to the ocean or hope to crash land in or near a stream that will then carry it to the ocean.
  • In addition to old-growth logging, marbled murrelets are threatened by oil spills and fishing nets, especially from gillnet fishery operations.
  • Murrelets are counted at-sea, and they are scarce or absent offshore of areas where most of the old-growth forests have been logged.