Common Murre

Range Map
Uria aalge

Murres belong to a family called Alcids, or Auks. Using their wings to propel them through the water, these deep diving birds will regularly descend to two to three hundred feet. They have been known to go as deep as 550 or even 590 feet. They often stay down for a minute per dive.

Common Murres nest on narrow ledges along steep rocky cliffs in dense colonies. There, they usually stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their neighbors. They lay a single large egg that requires three and a half to five and a half weeks of incubation by both parents. Most chicks fledge after about 3 weeks from hatching. When they leave their cliff-side nest site, they are not yet strong flyers, but they must be able to glide to the ocean surface and avoid avian predators. Usually, the male parent takes on the responsibility of feeding the young birds, and teaching them to fend for themselves. This process often lasts one to two months, depending on food availability.

While some authorities recognise up to eight subspecies, five of them are more widely accepted by today’s taxonomists.

  • U. a. hyperborea lives in Norway and northwestern Russia east to Novaya Zemlya.
  • U. a. aalge lives in eastern North America, Greenland, and Iceland through Faeroes and Scotland to Norway and the Baltic Sea.
  • U. a. albionis lives in Ireland and Britain through Brittany to western Iberia.
  • U. a. inornata lives in Japan north through Sakhalin and Kuril Island to Kamchatka. Also east through the Bering Sea, the Aleutians, and western Alaska and south to northwestern British Columbia.
  • U. a. californica lives on the coast of the Western United States from northern Washington south to California.

The birds I have met were mostly in northern California. But my most intimate encounters came in Crescent City, where they foraged in the harbor at close range.

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