Common Murres Are the Penguins of the North

These alcids, related to puffins, must flap frantically to fly through the air—but beneath the waves, they are streamlined, masterful swimmers.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of the National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


This is BirdNote.

The miracle of flight, that enviable ability is what birds are best known for. Yet among the nearly 10,000 bird species worldwide, only a few dozen can fly under water. The Common Murre is among them.

We most often think of the penguins of southern latitudes as underwater fliers par excellence. In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the family of seabirds called alcids or auks that wing their way under the marine surface. Puffins, murrelets, guillemots, and Common Murres are all underwater fliers.

When flying above the water, the eighteen-inch-long Common Murres must flap frantically to stay aloft. But beneath the waves, using their flipper-like wings, they are streamlined, masterful swimmers, black-and-white torpedoes chasing fish even at depths of several hundred feet. To reduce drag, the murre holds its wings only partly extended, flying through the submarine world with powerful strokes.

Several hundred feet under the water—it's amazing, it's it?

For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.



Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Call of the Common Murre colony 137898 recorded by M. Fischer; Common Murre individual recorded by Thomas G. Sander; call of Tufted Puffin 3861 recorded by E.S. Booth; call of Pigeon Guillemot 109262 recorded by G.A. Keller.

Ambient track provided by Kessler Productions.

Narrator: Mary McCan

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

© 2012 Tune In to September 2018