Murre Seabird Chicks Hatch for the First Time in 100 Years on Channel Islands

Contact: Robert Johns, 202-234-7181 ext.210,

 

Common Murre by Alan Wilson
Common Murre by Alan Wilson

(August  24, 2011) Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and National Park Service (NPS) recently discovered that Common Murre chicks had hatched on the Channel Islands for the first time since 1912.

 

The Channel Islands of California are a chain of eight islands located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California. Five of the islands make up the Channel Islands National Park.

 

Murres are football-sized seabirds with “tuxedo” plumage similar to penguins, but capable of flying as well as diving underwater to depths of 500 feet. Historically, murres nested on Prince Island, a small islet off San Miguel Island within Channel Islands National Park. This colony disappeared nearly a century ago, likely a result of human disturbance and egg harvesting.

 

In California, Common Murres are most abundant off central through northern California with tens to hundreds of thousands of birds nesting at the South and North  Farallon Islands, Point Reyes and other similar locations.

 

“This is an exciting finding — certainly a historic one,” says Josh Adams, a seabird ecologist with the USGS Western Ecological Research Center. “The murres appear to have reestablished their former southern range, perhaps benefitting from present ocean conditions.”

 

This new colony is perched on 100-foot-high sea cliffs, and was spotted during USGS and NPS research trips to this remote windswept island this summer.

 

During three visits between late June and early July, researchers repeatedly counted some 125 birds and estimated that over half appeared to be incubating or brooding chicks. A single broken eggshell was observed on July 12 amidst several adults holding fish in their bills. Several well developed chicks were observed later in the month.

 

For the first two weeks of their lives, murre chicks are fed at the colony by their parents, which use their wings to propel themselves underwater and dive for anchovies, sardines, and juvenile rockfishes. At about two weeks of age, the chicks waddle off the cliff edges and plummet to the surf below. They join their fathers, which raise the chicks at sea until they are capable of diving, flying, and feeding on their own.

 

With this murre colony, Prince Island now hosts 13 species of nesting seabirds, making it one of the most important and biologically diverse nesting habitats on the West Coast of North America. The new colony also is situated within Channel Islands National Park, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and the recently designated Harris Point California Marine Protected Area.

 

Seabird biologists will continue to evaluate the future of the Common Murre colony at Prince Island.
Partners in this monitoring effort included the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program and the California Institute for Environmental Studies.

 

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American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats, while building capacity in the bird conservation movement.