Priority Bird
Conservation status 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.
Family Auks, Murres, Puffins
Habitat 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.
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.

Feeding Behavior

Forages while swimming underwater. Does most feeding in waters less than 100' deep, fairly close to shore.


One. Variable, yellowish to olive to blue-green, marked with brown, black, lavender. Incubation is by both sexes, probably about 4 weeks. Young: 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.


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.


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.

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

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Generally resident near breeding areas, but some move south in winter, rarely with small numbers "invading" coast of southern California.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

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Songs and Calls

A plaintive keer, keer, keer.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Marbled Murrelet

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate Threats Near You

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.