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Murre Seabird Chicks Hatch for the First Time in 100 Years on the Channel Islands

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Date: August 9, 2011
Contact: Yvonne Menard, 805-658-5725

USGS_murre_colony_20110712_PHOTO_INSET
Murre colony on Prince Island near San Miguel Island, Channel Islands National Park.
Jonathan Felis, U.S. Geological Survey

This July, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and National Park Service (NPS) discovered that California Common Murre (Uria aalge californica) chicks had hatched for the first time since 1912 on the Channel Islands.

Historically, murres nested on Prince Island—a small islet off San Miguel Island within Channel Islands National Park. This colony disappeared nearly a century ago, likely a result of human disturbance and egg harvesting.

In California, Common Murres are most abundant off central through northern California with tens to hundreds of thousands of birds nesting at the Farallon Islands, off Trinidad Head, and at Castle Rock National Wildlife Refuge.

“This is an exciting finding; certainly a historic one,” says Josh Adams, a seabird ecologist with the USGS Western Ecological Research Center. “The murres appear to have reestablished their former southern range, perhaps benefitting from present ocean conditions.”

This new colony was spotted, perched on 100-foot-high sea cliffs, by Adams and colleagues Laurie Harvey, David Mazurkiewicz, and Jonathan Felis during their research trips to this remote windswept island this summer. With this murre colony, Prince Island now hosts 13 nesting seabirds, making it one of the most important and biologically diverse nesting habitats on the West Coast of North America.

Using photographic documentation, they counted some 125 birds and estimated that over half may be incubating. The first successful chick hatching was observed on July 28, 2011.

Murres are football-sized seabirds with the tuxedo colors of penguins—except they can both fly in the air and dive down to 500 feet underwater. They use their wings to propel themselves underwater.

For the first two weeks murre chicks are fed by their parents, who dive for anchovies, sardines, and juvenile rockfishes. At the end of two weeks baby murres waddle off the cliff edges to the surf below. They join their fathers, who raise the chicks at sea until they are capable of diving and feeding on their own.

The new colony is situated within Channel Islands National Park, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and the recently designated Harris Point California Marine Protected Area. Seabird biologists will continue to evaluate the future of the Common Murre colony at Prince Island. Partners in this monitoring effort included the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program and the California Institute for Environmental Studies.

For more information on California seabird research: http://www.werc.usgs.gov/seabirds

For more detailed public domain photos of the colony:
http://gallery.usgs.gov/photos/07_29_2011_bfv2YLk88S_07_29_2011_0

http://gallery.usgs.gov/photos/07_29_2011_bfv2YLk88S_07_29_2011_1

Did You Know?

Brown pelican on nest

The Channel Islands are home to the largest breeding colonies of seabirds in southern California.