At a Glance

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.
Auks, Murres, Puffins, Upright-perching Water Birds
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Open Ocean
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Erratic, Rapid Wingbeats

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


17" (43 cm). Charcoal above, white below, sharply two-toned in summer but with more white on face in winter. Compare to loons. Thick-billed Murre is very similar.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, White
Wing Shape
Broad, Pointed
Tail Shape

Songs and Calls

Purring or murmuring, hence the name "murre." Also a guttural croak and higher-pitched bleat.
Call Pattern
Flat, Undulating
Call Type
Chatter, Odd, Raucous


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.



One. Very variable, usually whitish, tan, blue, or green, with markings of brown, reddish, black. Incubation is by both sexes, 28-37 days.


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.

Feeding Behavior

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


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


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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Common Murre. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Common Murre

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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