Species Profile

Marbled Murrelet

Scientific Name: Brachyramphus marmoratus
Taxonomy Group: Birds
COSEWIC Range: British Columbia
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: May 2012
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: A4c
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This small seabird is largely dependent on old growth coastal forests in British Columbia for nesting. Habitat loss has been estimated at over 20% for the past three generations. Future threats including ongoing habitat loss, coupled with increased threats from proposed shipping routes in the core of the species’ range, increased fragmentation from a variety of proposed and recently initiated developments, fisheries bycatch and changing at sea conditions have resulted in projected population losses exceeding 30% over the next three generations.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in April 1990. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2000 and May 2012.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Marbled Murrelet Photo 2

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Description

Marbled Murrelets are small seabirds. They are members of the same family as auks, puffins and murres. In winter, they have black and white plumage and conspicuous white wing patches. During the breeding season, they have mottled-brown plumage. Chicks have yellow or greyish yellow down, with dark spotted upperparts. Murrelets fly very quickly with rapidly beating, pointed wings.

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Distribution and Population

Marbled Murrelets occur along 4 000 kilometers of coastline extending from California to Alaska. Within this range, they can be found up to 75 km inland. The geographic centre of the species’ range is in southeast Alaska, and Alaska and Canada are home to the largest numbers of birds. Populations in California, Oregon and Washington are fragmented. The winter range of the species is not well known, but in the southern parts of the range some birds may remain at breeding sites throughout the year. In Canada, Marbled Murrelets are found only in British Columbia. Here they occur in coastal areas in both summer and winter. The Marbled Murrelet is very difficult to survey. The total population size is unknown, but it is estimated to be between 263 000 and 841 000 individuals, at least 50 000 of which occur in Canada. The status of the species in various areas is not well documented, but a preliminary estimate at one site indicates a 4% decline.

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Habitat

Marbled Murrelets forage in the inshore marine environment, primarily in protected waters where both sand lance and surf smelt occur. They travel long distances between at-sea locations and nest sites. They require old-growth forest for their nests, which they place high in the trees. They need tree cover above the nest, but small gaps in the canopy for accessing the nest. The birds do not build nests, but use a large limb covered with deep moss that serves as a platform in which they make a depression for their single egg. In addition, in Alaska a very small percentage of birds nests on the ground. It is estimated that a large percentage of old-growth forests within this species’ range has been removed over the last 150 years.

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Biology

Marbled Murrelets nest singly or in loose associations in inland areas. Their nests are very difficult to find and access, and the species is sensitive to disturbance. These factors make them very difficult to study. Their lifespan remains unknown, but the oldest Marbled Murrelet that has ever been found was more than 10 years old. Marbled Murrelet movements are not well understood either, but the birds carry out partial migrations outside the breeding season. The age at which they begin breeding is unknown but it is assumed to be about two years. Marbled Murrelets have a protracted breeding period, with the individuals of a population not all breeding at the same time. Both females and males share in incubating the eggs and caring for the young. Each pair has only one egg per season and incubation lasts about 28 days. Nesting success is low, mainly because of predation from other birds.

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Threats

The greatest threat to Marbled Murrelets is thought to be loss of their nesting habitat. They have specific nesting needs in old-growth forests, which are the focus of much commercial activity. There are also substantial threats from oil contamination, and entanglement in gill-nets when the birds forage at sea. The species has a very low reproductive rate. Conservation is dependent on the species being long-lived and each pair producing many young over its lifetime. Human-induced factors threaten the survival of the adults, thereby putting the population at substantial risk.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Marbled Murrelet is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The Marbled Murrelet is protected by the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act. Under this Act, it is prohibited to kill, harm, or collect adults, young, and eggs. It is protected by the Canada National Parks Act, where it occurs in the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. It is also protected under numerous provincial acts in British Columbia, including the Wildlife Act and the Forest and Range Practices Act.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

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Recovery Team

Marbled Murrelet Recovery Team

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Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date The Marbled Murrelet Recovery Team has drafted a Recovery Strategy for the Marbled Murrelet. A Habitat Action Plan also has been drafted to address nesting habitat across British Columbia. Research efforts have focused on refining the provincial population estimate and developing and verifying methods to identify suitable nesting habitat throughout the province. Summary of Research/Monitoring Activities Research and monitoring activities for the Marbled Murrelet have focused on refining the provincial population estimate through development and implementation of a detailed radar monitoring plan. This population monitoring will enable trend detection in the murrelet population in British Columbia and sampling of populations using high frequency marine radar. Radar studies are being conducted throughout British Columbia as part of the radar population monitoring plan, including Vancouver Island, the South Coast, the North and Central Coast, and in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands). Other important marine issues are being investigated including, fisheries by-catch, oil leaks and oil contamination, and impacts of changes in marine food webs on historical populations. Identification of potentially suitable murrelet nesting habitat is achieved by using a coast-wide habitat modeling program that has been developed provincially and applied to the entire range of the species. The modeling program provides an estimate of the amount of suitable murrelet habitat, based on data from 2002. Research on nesting habitat is ongoing in various parts of the bird’s range and includes verification of the habitat model with low-level aerial surveys and air-photo analysis to create a consistent nesting habitat data layer. Comparisons of the methodologies to identify habitat (habitat models, air photos, and low-level aerial classifications) also are being made. Low-level aerial flights have been conducted throughout parts of the southern half of the Marbled Murrelet’s range and in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Satellite imagery has recently been used to estimate changes in the amount of suitable nesting habitat over time on the southern mainland coast. Summary of Recovery Activities Recovery activities for the Marbled Murrelet have been ongoing for over 10 years and have focused mainly on nesting habitat identification and protection. A total of 130 areas have been set aside as Wildlife Habitat Areas for Marbled Murrelets, which represent 1.3% of the potentially available suitable habitat. A Recovery Implementation Group for nesting habitat has identified suitable forest nesting habitat for all six Marbled Murrelet Conservation Regions and has produced a draft action plan. The Marbled Murrelet Habitat Recovery Implementation Group estimates that 29% of suitable nesting habitat is currently protected in British Columbia. The effects of gill net mortality on Marbled Murrelets are currently being investigated by the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans through support from the Interdepartmental Recovery Fund. Recent work examines the role of changes in marine prey populations on historical Marbled Murrelet populations in the Strait of Georgia. URLs Workshop proceedings that summarizes recent projects on nesting habitat models, verification, air photo and low-level aerial classifications available at: http://www.forrex.org/program/con_bio/pdf/workshops/mamu Marbled Murrelet Recovery Team:http://www.sfu.ca/biology/wildberg/bertram/mamurt/ Environment Canada: The Science and Environment Bulletin: www.ec.gc.ca/science/sandejan00/article5_e.html

Hinterland Who's Who: Marbled Murrelet: http://www.hww.ca/hww2.asp?pid=1&cid=7&id=55

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

18 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Marbled Murrelet (2013-01-03)

    This small seabird is largely dependent on old growth coastal forests in British Columbia for nesting. Habitat loss has been estimated at over 20% for the past three generations. Future threats including ongoing habitat loss, coupled with increased threats from proposed shipping routes in the core of the species’ range, increased fragmentation from a variety of proposed and recently initiated developments, fisheries bycatch and changing at sea conditions have resulted in projected population losses exceeding 30% over the next three generations.

Recovery Strategies

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada (2018-08-01)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (GINPR). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA (s.47)) for species requiring an action plan that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits to other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at GINPR.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site (2016-07-04)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site meets the requirements for an action plan set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA (s.47)) for species requiring an action plan that occur inside the boundary of the site. This action plan will be updated to more comprehensively include measures to conserve and recover the marine species at risk once the first integrated Land, Sea, People management plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve & Haida Heritage Site (hereafter called Gwaii Haanas) is complete. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in Gwaii Haanas.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada (2017-08-24)

    Backed by the Insular Mountain Range of Vancouver Island and facing the open Pacific Ocean, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada (Pacific Rim NPR) protects and presents the rich natural and cultural heritage of Canada's west coast. Pacific Rim NPR consists of three distinct units, the Long Beach Unit, Broken Group Islands Unit, and West Coast Trail Unit, each offering a range of unique visitor experiences. With significant areas (51,216 ha in total) of old growth, temperate rainforest, coastal dune systems, wetlands and foreshore, and marine habitats, the park demonstrates the interconnectedness between land, sea, and people. These natural wonders are interwoven with the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations culture (past and present), and that of European explorers and settlers.

Critical Habitat Statements

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2011-2012 (2012-10-05)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (September 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012) from November 21 to 25, 2011 and from April 29 to May 4, 2012. On February 3, 2012, an Emergency Assessment Subcommittee of COSEWIC also assessed the status of the Tri-colored Bat (Perimyotis subflavus), the Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus), and the Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis). During the current reporting period COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 67 wildlife species. For species already found on Schedule 1 of SARA, the classification of 32 species was reviewed by COSEWIC and the status of the wildlife species was confirmed to be in the same category (extirpated - no longer found in the wild in Canada but occurring elsewhere, endangered, threatened or of special concern). The wildlife species assessment results for the 2011-2012 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 1 Extirpated: 4 Endangered: 29 Threatened: 10 Special Concern: 15 Data Deficient: 2 Not at Risk: 6 Total: 67 Of the 67 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 49 species that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 26 of those species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment (see Table 1a).

Permits and Related Agreements

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species – December 2012 (2013-01-03)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 4, 2013, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultations and by October 4, 2013, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations. Consultation paths.

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

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