Monday, May 1, 2017

185 Years

One of the new birds that we've seen here in the Pacific Northwest is the Marbled Murrelet. They are in the family of birds known as Alcids, which are sometimes considered "The Penguins of the North" because of their compact body shape, short wings, and feet that are set far back on their body. The big difference is that they fly!
Marbled Murrelets in Flight
The Marbled Murrelet presented one of the great mysteries of North American birding for nearly two centuries. They were first described in 1789, but their nests went undiscovered for 185 years. Other Alcids nest along the coast, in sandy burrows or on rocky cliffs. Some early drawings (including Audubon's) showed Marbled Murrelets nesting in this fashion. But decades of searching by ornithologists failed to locate a single nest.

Finally, in 1974, an arborist evaluating some old growth forest found a nest over a hundred feet in the air, sitting on a large mossy branch. It turns out that Marbled Murrelets fly up to 50 miles inland to place their nests on large horizontal branches of the oldest trees in the forest.
Marbled Murrelet pair
So the mystery was been solved, but this story may not have a happy ending. Logging and development of their forested nesting habitat has had a significant impact on the Marbled Murrelet population, and they are now listed as Threatened or Endangered. Conservation plans include limiting logging in old growth forest and are controversial to say the least.

We are thrilled to have seen these birds on our San Juan Islands trip, and hope that measures will be taken to assure their continued survival.


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