For the Birds: Marbled Murrelets - our endangered seabird

Monday, January 9, 2017

Our Marbled Murrelets are endangered seabirds.
Photo by Rich McIntosh
By Christine Southwick

Marbled Murrelets, endangered seabirds, really are one of our local birds we can protect, if we act in a concerted manner.

Marbled Murrelets are only found on the Pacific Coast, breeding only in the old-growth forests growing from northern California through Alaska.

Marbled Murrelets in Washington build their one-egg nest only on a mossy, lichen-lined horizontal branch in 200 year or older trees within a heavily forested area.

Marbled Murrelet on the nest
These suitable nesting sites are rare, and becoming rarer, often causing the parents to fly 45 miles each way to capture the small schooling fishes that they feed to their nestling.

And you thought you had a long commute!

Marbled Murrelets forage close to shores, preferring calm waters and bays, swimming underwater to catch their small schooling fish in waters usually less than 100 feet deep.

Jim Creek, a naval radio station near Arlington, has 5,000 wooded acres, of which 225 acres are ancient growth trees. 

“Many trees in the 225 acres (0.91 km2) are estimated to be up to 1500 – 1700 years old with some over 260 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter.”

This ancient growth forest is the largest remaining old-growth cedar and spruce forest in the Puget Sound trough. Jim Creek has verified Marbled Murrelet nests.

The most enlightening event of my trip to Jim Creek was when the ranger explained that old-growth trees are chemically different and support different organisms than second-growth trees.

He said that if you took a second-growth tree and shook it upside-down, and then you took an old-growth tree and shook it upside-down, and you would get totally different organisms.

Old growth trees have lived so long, and collect dampness from fog, etc., that over the years lichen and mosses have decomposed enough that soils have formed, and salamanders and other creatures climb up and take shelter there too.

Murrelets fly 45 miles each way
to get food for their nestlings
Murrelets have adapted to only flying inland from the sea just before sunrise or after sunset when the light is low, to avoid daylight raptors. 

The chick, or the brooding parent, has to keep hidden for 24 hours before food or the parental exchange can arrive. The chick has a month to grow, go through its first adult molt, and then it has fly to the ocean by itself at night.

Mortality is high, and not all eggs survive nest predation.

There are public meetings / webinar being held this month on rules and ways to save these birds.

Come to a public information meeting on Thursday, January 12 from 6-8 pm at Whitman Middle School in Seattle’s Ballard/Crown Hill neighborhood: 9201 15th Avenue NW, Seattle, 98117.

More information at Seattle Audubon.


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