Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Common Murre

Uria aalge

Widespread on Pacific Coast from Alaska to California, but more local in the east, being found mainly off eastern Canada. This large auk sits upright on sea cliffs, looking like a northern version of a penguin. It swims and dives expertly, but its flight appears labored. For its size, the Common Murre has the most densely packed nesting colonies of any bird species; nests may be so close together that incubating adults are actually touching other adults on both sides.
Conservation status Still abundant, but populations are known to have declined in many areas. Vulnerable to effects of pollution; a frequent victim of oil spills.
Family Auks, Murres, Puffins
Habitat Ocean, large bays; colonies on sea cliffs. Favors cool ocean waters, both offshore and rather near coast, generally over continental shelf. Unlike Thick-billed Murre, tends to avoid areas of pack ice. Nests on coasts and islands, on ledges of cliffs and on flat bare rock atop sea stacks.
Widespread on Pacific Coast from Alaska to California, but more local in the east, being found mainly off eastern Canada. This large auk sits upright on sea cliffs, looking like a northern version of a penguin. It swims and dives expertly, but its flight appears labored. For its size, the Common Murre has the most densely packed nesting colonies of any bird species; nests may be so close together that incubating adults are actually touching other adults on both sides.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages while swimming underwater. May dive to more than 150' below surface when foraging.


Eggs

One. Very variable, usually whitish, tan, blue, or green, with markings of brown, reddish, black. Incubation is by both sexes, 28-37 days. Young: Fed by both parents. Young leaves nest at 15-25 days, before able to fly; flutters down to water, is cared for and fed by parents at sea for several more weeks. Young is probably capable of flight at about 50-70 days.


Young

Fed by both parents. Young leaves nest at 15-25 days, before able to fly; flutters down to water, is cared for and fed by parents at sea for several more weeks. Young is probably capable of flight at about 50-70 days.

Diet

Mostly fish. Feeds on wide variety of fish, including herring, cod, capelin, sand lance, haddock, many others. Also eats various crustaceans, marine worms, squid.


Nesting

First breeds at age of 4-5 years. Nests in colonies. Displays by members of pair include pointing bill skyward, bowing deeply, clashing open bills together, preening each other's feathers. One (usually female) may return to nest site from sea with fish, present it ceremonially to mate. Nest site is on cliff ledge or on flat stony surface near water. Nests may be very close together, incubating birds well within touching distance. No nest built, egg laid on bare rock.

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

Migration

Permanent resident in many areas. Must leave vicinity of northern colonies in western Alaska in winter, when waters freeze solid. Some southward movement off both coasts, birds reaching New England waters and southern California in winter.

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Migration

Permanent resident in many areas. Must leave vicinity of northern colonies in western Alaska in winter, when waters freeze solid. Some southward movement off both coasts, birds reaching New England waters and southern California in winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Purring or murmuring, hence the name "murre." Also a guttural croak and higher-pitched bleat.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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