Bird of the Week, February 1, 2013,
Kittlitz's Murrelet


Kittlitz's Murrelet by G.A. Sanger, USGS


This small, mottled seabird (9.5 inches long and 8 ounces) is one of the rarest and least-known murrelets. The Kittlitz’s Murrelet is unique because of its intimate association with glaciers, which has earned it the nickname, “Glacier Murrelet.”


The effects of climate change are hitting this species especially hard. Rapidly rising temperatures are causing glaciers to melt and recede, and changes in ocean ecosystems are reducing the availability of the fish it eats. Kittlitz’s Murrelets are also affected by human disturbance from activities such as cruise-ship tours, which may cause it to abandon feeding areas, and entanglement in commercial gillnets.


The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill had a catastrophic effect on this species, destroying as much as 10 percent of its world population, with the populations in Prince William Sound decreasing by 84 percent. Similar declines elsewhere suggest the bird may disappear within a few decades. It is under review for listing under the Endangered Species Act.




Photo: G.A. Sanger, USGS; Range Map, NatureServe