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USFWS Pacific, Flickr Creative Commons
USFWS Pacific, Flickr Creative Commons

During a recent conversation with a fellow birding friend, the topic of marbled murrelets came up. Although marbled murrelets are widely known as a species which nest in old-growth redwood forest, my friend pointed out how different the bird is compared to other members of its family.

Marbled murrelets are part of the Auk (Alcidae) family along with other seabirds such as puffins, guillemots and murres. Common traits of this family are that they hunt for fish underwater and nest in colonies or groups. They also usually create nests either on rocky areas, in burrows, in holes in the sand, or around logs or roots. Most of the birds also have some variation of bold, black backs and white bellies, especially during breeding season.

The marbled murrelet, on the other hand, has  its own unique behavioral traits.

First, murrelets are the only bird in the Auk family to nest in pairs and not in colonies or smaller groups, and they often keep their same mate for their entire life. Additionally, marbled murrelets make their way inland to breed and nest in coastal forest trees, preferring the iconic old-growth redwood forests, which have made the murrelets famous! During the breeding season when other male birds are displaying their bold, bright colors, the murrelet has a cryptic brown plumage, most likely to camouflage with its environment – how do they ever attract the ladies?

I am not sure why the marbled murrelet is so different from other members of its family, but it just reminds me that there are sometimes exceptions to the rule when it comes to nature.  


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About Deborah Zierten

Deborah joined the League's staff in 2013 as the Education & Interpretation Manager. She brings with her extensive experience teaching science, developing curriculum and connecting kids to the natural world.


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