Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Ancient Murrelet

Synthliboramphus antiquus

Elegantly marked, a diving bird of the northern Pacific Coast. More agile in flight than most auks, able to take off directly from water, flocks often banking and turning in unison. Breeding behavior unusual for a seabird: Males "sing" at night from tree branches and other high perches at nesting colonies; the species regularly raises two young (most auks raise only one); it raises its young at sea, leading them away from the nest within a few days after they hatch. The name "Ancient" results from gray back, with fancied resemblance to a shawl draped across an old person's shoulders.
Conservation status Still reasonably common, but has been declining for many years. Foxes and raccoons (introduced for fur production) and rats (introduced accidentally) have wiped out or reduced nesting populations on many islands, in both North America and northeast Asia.
Family Auks, Murres, Puffins
Habitat Open ocean, sounds, rarely salt bays. Mostly on cool waters out of sight of land, sometimes concentrating over edge of continental shelf; may feed close to shore, especially in straits or near islands where tidal currents concentrate food near surface. Nests in burrows on islands with good cover of grass, shrubs, trees.
Elegantly marked, a diving bird of the northern Pacific Coast. More agile in flight than most auks, able to take off directly from water, flocks often banking and turning in unison. Breeding behavior unusual for a seabird: Males "sing" at night from tree branches and other high perches at nesting colonies; the species regularly raises two young (most auks raise only one); it raises its young at sea, leading them away from the nest within a few days after they hatch. The name "Ancient" results from gray back, with fancied resemblance to a shawl draped across an old person's shoulders.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
  • juvenile
Feeding Behavior

Forages while swimming underwater. Probably catches all food within about 60' of surface.


Eggs

2, rarely 1. Pale buff or olive, spotted with brown. Incubation is by both parents, 29-37 days. Young: Not fed in nest. 1-3 days after eggs hatch, parents come to nest at night and call near entrance; young leave nest and scramble down to sea (often over 1000' through dense vegetation). Parents and young recognize each other by voice, reunite at sea and swim away from colony. Young are fed by parents until fully grown, at least 4 weeks.


Young

Not fed in nest. 1-3 days after eggs hatch, parents come to nest at night and call near entrance; young leave nest and scramble down to sea (often over 1000' through dense vegetation). Parents and young recognize each other by voice, reunite at sea and swim away from colony. Young are fed by parents until fully grown, at least 4 weeks.

Diet

Crustaceans, fish. Diet not well known, but euphausiid shrimp appears to be primary food for much of year, mainly those about 1" in length. At some seasons eats mostly very small fish, including sand lance, capelin, herring, smelt, saury, rockfishes, and shiner perch.


Nesting

Breeds in colonies on islands; active at colonies mostly at night. Males come ashore after dark and sing from high perches, such as tree branches or stumps, simple song of repeated chirps. Nest site is burrow in ground under trees or grass, usually on slope and close to sea. Burrow (excavated by both sexes) usually 2-5' long; nest chamber at end lined with twigs, grass, leaves.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Some remain all year off southern Alaska, others move south to waters off California in winter. Disperses widely at sea after breeding. Of North American auks, this one is most likely to appear far inland. Records exist for many states and provinces east to Quebec and New York, south to Nevada and New Mexico. A few such records occur virtually every year, most in October or November.

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Migration

Some remain all year off southern Alaska, others move south to waters off California in winter. Disperses widely at sea after breeding. Of North American auks, this one is most likely to appear far inland. Records exist for many states and provinces east to Quebec and New York, south to Nevada and New Mexico. A few such records occur virtually every year, most in October or November.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Low, shrill whistling notes.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Auks, Murres, Puffins Upright-perching Water Birds

Ancient Murrelet

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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