At a Glance
A strange, mysterious little seabird. Although it is fairly common off the northern Pacific Coast, its nesting behavior was essentially unknown until the 1970s. In the Pacific Northwest, now known to nest high in trees in old-growth forest several miles inland from coast. Even where numerous, it is usually seen on the water in pairs or aggregations of pairs, not in large flocks; pairs flush from the water in front of approaching boats, fly away low with very rapid wingbeats.
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, Forests and Woodlands, Open Ocean
Alaska and The North, California, Northwest, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Generally resident near breeding areas, but some move south in winter, rarely with small numbers "invading" coast of southern California.
9 1/2" (24 cm). In breeding plumage, dark mottled brown all over. In winter, black and white with a white stripe over wing. In Alaska, compare to Kittlitz's Murrelet.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Gray, White
Pointed, Swept, Tapered
Songs and Calls
A plaintive keer, keer, keer.
Flat, Rising, Simple
Coastal waters, bays. Breeds inland on mountains near coast. Generally on ocean on calm protected waters near coast, as in bays, inlets, among islands; does most foraging in fairly shallow water. Sometimes found on lakes near coast. Nests on mountainsides on islands or well inland in mature forest.
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One. Variable, yellowish to olive to blue-green, marked with brown, black, lavender. Incubation is by both sexes, probably about 4 weeks.
Both parents apparently feed young, making feeding visits at night. Young leaves nest at about 27-28 days, probably flies directly to sea or at least to lake near coast.
Forages while swimming underwater. Does most feeding in waters less than 100' deep, fairly close to shore.
Fish, crustaceans. Diet varies with place and season, mostly small fish and crustaceans. Fish in diet include many sand lance, capelin, and herring, mostly small but up to 5" in length. Crustaceans include euphausiid shrimp, mysids, amphipods.
Very few nests have been found, so breeding behavior poorly known; details given here probably incomplete. Solitary nester, not in colonies. Nest site varies. In north, may be on ground on mountainside among sparse or dense growth. In south, may be on tree branch in dense forest, up to 150' above ground. Site may be close to coast or up to 15 miles inland. Nest is no more than shallow depression in lichens or moss on ground or tree branch; droppings of young bird build up into low rim.
Serious population declines in recent years. Continues to lose nesting habitat with cutting of old-growth forest in northwest. Because of feeding near shore, especially vulnerable to coastal oil spills.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Marbled Murrelet. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Marbled 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.