- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Alcidae
In breeding plumage, the Ancient Murrelet’s black head is crowned with beautiful white plumes reminiscent of the laurel wreaths worn by ancient Greek and Roman statesmen. This tiny seabird is blue-gray above, white below, with a black head and throat. It lives in the cold North Pacific, where it “flies” underwater to capture small fish and invertebrates. It breeds in burrows or crevices on fog-shrouded Pacific islands, in colonies of up to 10,000. The chicks leap into the ocean soon after hatching, and are raised at sea.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Ancient Murrelets feed mostly in offshore waters over the North Pacific continental shelf, out of sight of land. To see one well, it's best to take a pelagic birding trip during the nonbreeding season (during summer they are mostly restricted to the Aleutian Islands). On rare occasions, coastal upwellings bring nutrients and prey close to shore, attracting Ancient Murrelets and allowing them to be studied with a spotting scope.
- Mérgulo Antiguo (Spanish)
- Guillemot à cou blanc (French)
- Cool Facts
- Within a few days of hatching, Ancient Murrelet chicks emerge from their burrows by night and follow their parents to sea. The parents fly to the water, and the chicks follow, finding their parents by their voices among throngs of other Ancient Murrelets. Only after the chicks reach the water do their parents feed them.
- Ancient Murrelets have a remarkable variety of vocalizations for a seabird, at least nine distinctive calls, which probably have specific social functions. Most calls are rarely heard away from the nest, but adults and chicks call back and forth at sea. During calm weather, these calls can be heard at some distance.
- The Ancient Murrelet’s range overlaps broadly with the range of the slightly smaller Cassin’s Auklet. A study of their foods suggests that Ancient Murrelets eat more fish than Cassin’s Auklets, and this difference is probably reflected in their bill structures—broader at the base in Cassin’s, narrower in Ancient Murrelet.
- Male and female Ancient Murrelets take turns incubating the eggs, typically staying on the nest for 3 days and up to 6 days at a time before switching.
- The oldest Ancient Murrelet was at least 5 years old when it was recaptured and re-released during a banding operation in Alaska.