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Marbled Murrelet

Brachyramphus marmoratus

Length: 9.5 inches Wingspan: 16 inches Seasonality: Non-resident in South Dakota
ID Keys: In breeding plumage, dark brown with lighter speckling.  Non-breeding birds generally black above, white below with white neck collar

Marbled Murrelet - Brachyramphus marmoratusThe Marbled Murrelet is a small seabird of the north Pacific coast of North America.  They were one of the last birds in North America to have its nesting grounds discovered, with the first nest not discovered until 1974. This is due to their unusual nesting habits in much of their range, where the nest is built high in the trees of very old-growth forest, sometimes many miles from the coastline.  Their dependence on old-growth forests for nesting has undoubtedly resulted in declines in the species as logging has felled much of their preferred nesting habitat.  They have been listed as "threatened" by U.S. Fish and Wildlife since 1992.  Serious threats continue to impact the species.


During the summer breeding season, breeds on mountainous slopes on the coast (typically on islands), or in mature, old-growth forest, sometimes well inland from the coast.  At other seasons, found on protected waters near the coast.


Feeds mostly on small fish and crustaceans such as shrimp and amphipods, as well as squid.


Forages by swimming underwater, usually in relatively shallow water close to shore. 


The nest of a Marbled Murrelet is usually a simple depression in mosses and lichens on a sturdy tree branch, or in the northern portion of their range, the nest may be placed on the ground. Both males and females will help to incubate the eggs.  Upon hatching, both parents tend to and feed the young. 


The call of a Marbled Murrelet is a simple, clear keer note, occasionally uttered with two successive syllables. They also have other vocalizations in and around the nest.

1Click here to hear the call of a Marbled Murrelet, recorded near Sitka, Alaska

2Click here to hear the call of a Marbled Murrelet, recorded in British Columbia


Many Marbled Murrelets stay very close to their summer breeding grounds in all seasons.  However, there is some movement southward in the winter, as well as a greater likelihood that Marbled Murrelets will be found further from shore.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Marbled Murrelet sightings

Similar Species:

Non-breeding birds are similar in appearance to nearly all other Murrelets in non-breeding plumage.  Breeding plumage differences are easier to distinguish. Marbled Murrelets are most likely to be confused with the following species:

Conservation Status:

Marbled Murrelet are still common in some areas, but populations have plummeted in recent years, particularly in the southern part of their range. Habitat loss, vulnerability to oil spills, and the effects of climate change are significant threats to the species in the future. The IUCN currently lists the Marbled Murrelet as "Endangered".

Further Information:

1) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Profile - Marbled Murrelet

2) Audubon Guide - Marbled Murrelet

3) WhatBird - Marbled Murrelet

Photo Information:

Photo taken in August, 2010 - Resurrection Bay, off the coast of Seward, Alaska - Terry Sohl

Audio File Credits:

1Matt Goff, XC77418. Accessible at

2Ian Cruickshank, XC292891. Accessible at


Click below for a higher-resolution map
Marbled Murrelet - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Non-resident in South Dakota

Additional Marbled Murrelet Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Marbled Murrelet 1 - Brachyramphus marmoratusMarbled Murrelet 2 - Brachyramphus marmoratusMarbled Murrelet 3 - Brachyramphus marmoratusMarbled Murrelet 4 - Brachyramphus marmoratusMarbled Murrelet 5 - Brachyramphus marmoratusMarbled Murrelet 6 - Brachyramphus marmoratus