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Latest Science on the Marbled Murrelet: In the Forest and Out on the Water

~ Nick Hatch

OFCO Board Member Fayette Krause posed this question to the Marbled Murrelet Coalition: Why are Washington’s Marbled Murrelets declining much more rapidly than California, Oregon or Alaska? The U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station released a study on Washington’s Marbled Murrelets in part to answer the question.

The Marbled Murrelet nests in old-growth condition trees, with large nest “platforms” padded with a thick layer of moss, and protected from open forest edges that would allow corvids to predate on the single egg and then the hatchling chick. Using telemetry and tracking devices on 157 birds over five years between 2004 and 2008, the research showed only 20 pairs attempted nesting, and only four fledged successfully.

The research hoped to connect both the key habitats—forest and marine—to learn about the decline of the population and to inform conservation efforts. The study concluded that decreasing nesting habitat and marine feeding habitat in greater distance from nesting habitat contributed to population decline. In Washington, the range of nesting habitat was found to be an order of magnitude larger than areas in Alaska, where the birds are not a threatened species. The report: “Inside Their Hidden World: Tracking the Elusive Marbled Murrelet.”

OFCO Board Member Karen Sullivan, a marine biologist, is conducting an extensive literature gap survey on the marine habitat for the murrelet to be published in 2020–21. Naval operations in the Salish Sea area are of concern in the decline for prey fish and impacts on murrelets. Salish Sea Wild’s video on the Marbled Murrelet is one to watch to understand the marine habitat for the murrelet. The segment is “The Risky Business of Saving Seabirds.” Intrepid scientists are out on the water in inclement weather searching for and tagging Marbled Murrelets and collecting samples to determine what is happening with the murrelet diet.

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