Common Murre | Oceana
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Seabirds

Common Murre

Uria aalge

Distribution

Pacific Ocean, from coastal Alaska to California and Atlantic Ocean, from Canada to Maine

Ecosystem/Habitat

Live along coastal cliffsides; feed in coastal to open ocean (pelagic) waters

Feeding Habits

Diving predator

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Taxonomy

Order Charadriiformes (shorebirds), Family: Alcidae (auk)

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The common murre can look like a penguin from afar due to their dark and white coloring. These seabirds dive deep for their food, using their powerful wings to “fly” underwater. These surface divers can remain underwater for up to one minute before returning to the surface to breathe.

Common murres typically spend their winters close to their breeding grounds, often alongside other nesting birds including Atlantic puffins and storm petrels. They make their homes on cliffs or rocky ledges, and unlike most birds they do not make nests. Instead they lay their pear-shaped eggs directly on the bare rock.3 Both parents help incubate the egg, swapping 12 to 24 hour shifts so the other may hunt and rest. When the chick is born, a parent will stand between them and the cliff edge to keep them from leaping off.

When the chick does leave their cliffside home, it flutters down to the sea below off a drop of up to 1,500 feet. The father typically accompanies the chick the first few times out to sea, until it is better able to fly on its own.3 Once it can fly, the common murre spends most of its life at sea.

Though these seabirds are considered not threatened with extinction, they are still highly impacted by changes in the environment, and very susceptible to the damaging effects of pollution and oil spills.3

A 2014-2016 extreme heatwave event in the Pacific Ocean known as “the Blob” had severe adverse effects on common murre populations along the U.S. West Coast. The heatwave killed an estimated 1 million seabirds.1 Warmer than average waters depleted prey populations, which led to widespread starvation during this unprecedented seabird die-off. Approximately 62,000 dead or dying murres washed ashore from 2015-2016, andcommon murres were the most impacted equating to around 10-20% of the total common murre population on the Pacific Coast.1

As climate change worsens, our oceans could see more frequent marine heatwaves like the Blob. Oceana campaigns to restore the abundance of the world’s oceans. With support from grassroots activists and supporters, Oceana won protections for 140,000 square miles of critical seafloor ecosystems off the U.S. West Coast that were impacted by the Blob and secured safeguards for hundreds of important forage fish species that marine life like common murres prey on. Join Oceana to learn how you can help restore abundant oceans and address the effects of climate change.

 

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Fun Facts About Common Murres

1. Common murre typically dive underwater to depths up to 100 feet, but have reached a recorded depth of 550 feet.

2. Common murre do not make nests, instead laying eggs directly on bare rock or soil on a steep cliff or ledge facing the sea.3

3.  Chicks are able to fly as early as 39 days old.

4. Common murres can live approximately 26 years in the wild.

5. Large breeding colonies of common murre are called loomeries

 
 
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Engage Youth with Sailors for the Sea

Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.

 

Kids Environmental Lesson Plans

 

Additional Resources

  1. PLOS One
  2. World Register of Marine Species
  3. Animal Diversity Web
 

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