SCIENTIFIC NAME: Brachyramphus marmoratus
HABITAT: Large, intact old-growth forests near coastline
LIFE HISTORY: Secretive and shy; easily disrupted. Nest building commences in March to mid-July; females lay one egg. Eggs highly vulnerable to predation by other birds.
THREATS: Logging of nesting habitat; oil spills; entrapment in commercial fishing nets
FORMER RANGE: Alaska's Aleutian Archipelago to southern California
CURRENT POPULATION: 550,000; 20,000-30,000 in Washington, Oregon and California
A narrow swath of land and water along the Pacific Northwest coast provides everything a marbled murrelet needs to survive. This small black-and-white seabird feeds in near-shore coastal waters, but is willing to venture up to 30 miles inland for the only nesting sites that will do -- lofty perches in old-growth forests. Murrelet nests, mossy cups high up in the branches of ancient trees, are notoriously difficult to spot -- the first was discovered only in 1974.
The murrelets' coastal habitat makes them doubly vulnerable to threats from human activity -- to oil spills and entrapment in gill nets on the water, and diminishing numbers of old-growth trees on land. Populations are estimated to be falling at a rate of 4 percent to 7 percent every year. In May 2004, a federal panel of researchers concluded that murrelets could disappear from Pacific Northwest forests within the next century.
Currently, the murrelets, which are found along the coast from Alaska down to northern California, are only protected in Washington, Oregon and California. A recent review, however, shows the birds are in decline across their range. Nevertheless, the timber industry is pushing for the removal of the bird's protections under the Endangered Species Act and filed a petition to de-list the murrelet in March 2007. Conservationists in the Pacific Northwest are fighting to keep the little bird, currently listed as a threatened species, protected.