At a Glance
A compact little seabird of Alaskan waters. Closely related to Marbled Murrelet and, like that species, rather mysterious and poorly known. Much more limited in range, being common mainly from Kodiak Island east to Glacier Bay. Solitary in its nesting; only a few nests have been found, so its breeding behavior is not well known.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Auks, Murres, Puffins, Upright-perching Water Birds
Coasts and Shorelines, Open Ocean
Alaska and The North
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Mostly permanent resident, although must leave northernmost breeding areas in western Alaska in winter (when seas freeze solid). Extremely rare straggler south of southeastern Alaska.
9" (23 cm). In summer, like Marbled Murrelet but more golden brown above, with entire belly white (most easily seen in flight). At close range, looks distinctly shorter-billed. Easier to tell in winter, when Kittlitz's has white face.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Gray, White
Pointed, Swept, Tapered
Songs and Calls
Low-pitched groaning call.
Falling, Flat, Simple
Ocean, glacier waters; nests on barren slopes in coastal mountains. Found on cold sea waters, mostly in calm, protected bays and among islands. Usually fairly close to shore. Nests on islands and mainland, on steep barren mountainsides, talus slopes, rock slides, sometimes near glaciers.
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One. Pale olive with brown and gray spots. Incubation probably by both sexes, but details (including length of incubation period) unknown. Young: Probably fed at nest site by parent(s) for at least 2-3 weeks. Some young then may travel along streams and rivers to reach sea, probably before old enough to fly strongly; others may fly directly from nest to ocean.
Probably fed at nest site by parent(s) for at least 2-3 weeks. Some young then may travel along streams and rivers to reach sea, probably before old enough to fly strongly; others may fly directly from nest to ocean.
Forages while swimming underwater. Does most feeding in cold waters fairly close to shore, probably where relatively shallow.
Not well known. Has a shorter bill than that of Marbled Murrelet, suggesting a different diet; known to eat small crustaceans, and possibly eats fewer fish than Marbled Murrelet.
Solitary in breeding, on islands and mainland; few details known. Nest site is on ground on steep rocky slope with little vegetation, often 1000-3000' above sea level and several miles inland from ocean (can be more than 45 miles inland). Often at base of large rock, and may be fairly near stream flowing toward ocean. No nest built, egg laid on bare rock or ground.
Total population is limited. Its rugged and remote range protects it from most direct human impacts, but climate change may be a serious threat: it often feeds near glaciers that come down to the sea, and those glaciers are receding. Would be vulnerable to spills and other pollution in coastal waters.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Kittlitz's Murrelet. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Kittlitz's Murrelet
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.