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California common murres return to Channel Islands after 100 years

California common murre (Uria aalge californicachicks have been spotted on Prince Island, a tiny islet off San Miguel Island (Google Map) in Channel Islands National Park, by researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service. Chicks of the black-and-white sea bird last hatched in the Channel Islands in 1912. That colony disappeared as the result of egg harvesting (murres have distintive turquoise eggs) and disturbances from humans and other predatory animals. Murres are “football-sized” seabirds that look like penguins but can fly and dive up to 500 feet underwater! The birds spend 95-99% of their lives swimming on the surface at sea and come to land only to breed. According to a Wikipedia photo, Uria aalge californica also colonize the Farallon Islands (my blog entry about its Web cam is here), west of San Francisco, in the hundreds of thousands!

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

With telephoto lenses, Adams and colleagues Laurie Harvey, David Mazurkiewicz, and Jonathan Felis spotted 6-8 chicks on 100-foot-tall sea cliffs! Researchers believe that there are possibly 80 nests in the area. Some 125 birds were spotted, with about half incubating eggs. A photo of nesting and chick-feeding activity on Prince Island is here.

Yvonne Menard, who is the public information officer for Channel Islands National Park, said that the appearance of the California common murre is important because it shows the success of an earlier program to eliminate predators on the islands. In 2001 and 2002, black rats were removed from Anacapa Island, and the number of sea birds there has increased since then.

“It’s important to realize that the Channel Islands are an essential habitat for a variety of seabirds,” Menard said. “These remote islands are essential because they are protected … and since the rats were removed, other sea birds are reporting successes.”

Another success story is the Xantus’s murrelet (How CUTE!), which have doubled in population since the removal of predators like rats.

Adams says that now is a really good time to see and HEAR murre families off the coast of California:

“They’re raised by pairs on the rocks and then when the chicks are ready, the dads call for them from the water below and the chicks jump off the cliff before they’re able to fly and they make their way to the dad.  So you can go out to Monterey Bay and hear the dads and kids vocalizing to each other.”

The KQED article ALSO has voice recordings with Adams talking about the California common murre, the process of recolonization of the Channel Islands, and murre family dynamics. (Where are the moms right now?)

So… don’t believe that there is nothing new under the sun; take the word of experts with caution (because so LITTLE is known about so MANY things), and keep your eyes wide open!

Enjoy the physical and biological diversity of California!

-Bill at

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