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THE OUTDOORS DIGEST | FIELD GUIDE

Common murre

June 07, 2005|David Lukas

[URIA AALGE]

This solidly built seabird is one of the most abundant ocean birds in the Northern Hemisphere. During the breeding season the 8 million murres along the Pacific Coast create a wonderful spectacle. Crowding shoulder to shoulder on rocky cliffs where they lay their single eggs, murres squabble noisily as they fly back and forth on feeding trips. The majority of their eggs are laid directly on sheer cliffs and ledges that are safe from predators but a risky place for eggs and young chicks that can fall off into the ocean. Murres rely on catching fish in cold deep water along the coast to feed themselves and their hungry chicks. Before they are even a quarter of their parents' size, the flightless chicks plummet from the cliff face and follow their fathers to prime feeding areas until they are ready to fly.

NATURAL HISTORY

Murres have difficulty flying because their wings are adapted to chasing fish underwater. To land at sheer nesting sites, they must approach from below and arc upward so steeply that they stall and crash at the exact point where their eggs sit.

KEY CHARACTERISTICS

The size of a small, sleek duck but sharply patterned black and white. Found from Monterey County north to Alaska.

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