What is a Marbled Murrelet?

Jessica Reed
Jessica Reed

The marbled murrelet, or Brachyramphus marmoratus, is an endangered species of seabird which dwells primarily along the coastal areas ranging from the Bering Sea by Alaska through Canada and into the Northwestern part of the United States including Washington and the top half of California. It hunts for food along the coast and flies inland to build nests high up in trees during breeding season. The marbled murrelet is unique not only for the location of its nests but also for its color which changes from a gray, black, and white coat to a brown coat during the mating season. It is a small and stocky bird with a slender bill and a white underbelly. The top of its head and its back are a mix of gray and black while its neck and parts of its face are typically white.

During the non-breeding season, the birds live near the coast and fish in the sea for food. They travel in small numbers and do not form large colonies as other birds do. To survive, they eat a diet of fish and other small sea creatures they can catch near the surface.

When it's time to build a nest, the marbled murrelet flies inland to the tall forests found in the Pacific Northwest of the US. There it nests high in a tree where the female will lay only one egg. In rare cases, the birds may build a nest on the ground instead in one of the tall trees. After laying her egg, the female and her male partner will take turns sitting on it to incubate it.

While one parent sits, the other returns to the sea to gather food. When one returns, the other goes to hunt for food while the first incubates the egg. They continue to trade off positions until the egg hatches. Once the baby marbled murrelet hatches, the parents will continue to feed it for about a month until it is ready to leave the nest. It then flies from the nest to the sea where it will hunt for food on its own.

Over the years, the marbled murrelet has become an endangered species. Both natural and human dangers threaten these birds. Logging in the forests where the birds make their nests is killing off the marbled murrelet population. Other dangers, such as an increase in natural predators, has lowered the bird's population and may continue to do so in the future.

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