Murrelet (Brachyramphus brevirostris) is a small alcid found in the waters off Alaska and
This critically endangered species is, like the closely
Murrelet, unusual for seabirds in not being colonial, nesting instead in
isolated locations on mountain tops, where the nests were known to Native
Americans for many years before skeptical ornithologists described and
It is a poorly known and little studied species,
although concern over its status and that of the closely related Marbled
Murrelet has led to a recent increase in research.
The common name of
this species commemorates the German zoologist Heinrich von Kittlitz, who first
collected this species.
The Kittlitz's Murrelet is, like the Marbled Murrelet, a
small compact auk, 25 cm long with tiny legs and cryptic plumage during the
breeding season. The colour of the breeding plumage, greyish-brown, reflects its
habit of breeding on bare ground near snowfields. In the winter it adopts the
black and white plumage typical of many seabirds. Its bill is smaller than that
of the Marbled Murrelet.
The Kittlitz's Murrelet mostly breeds and lives
in the coastal areas of Alaska, both on the mainland around Prince William
Sound, the Kenai Peninsula, sparsely up the west coast and along the Aleutian
Islands. It also nests in Siberia and possibly Wrangel Island.
Murrelet feeds close to the shore, in particular in the waters around tidewater
glaciers. It feeds on larval fish, krill and other small zooplankton. Chicks are
fed with slightly larger fish carried in the bill.
Murrelet is one of the least known auks, although it is known not to be
colonial, nesting instead above the tree line on mountains inland from the sea.
The nests are situated on south facing slopes on bare ground, often close to
snow. A single egg is laid (and incubated for an unknown amount of time). Chicks
are fed throughout the day, and reach fledging weight in around 25 days. The
exposed nature of the nesting grounds mean that chicks keep their downy feathers
later than most other birds, losing the down 12 hours before they fledge. It is
assumed that they fly to sea on fledging, but it has also been suggested that
they reach the seas through rivers. After the chick fledges it is thought to
receive no further parental care, no chick has ever been seen with an adult at
Kittlitz's Murrelet is considered to be critically endangered by the World
Conservation Union, although it is not listed under the Endangered Species Act
(it was a Species of Conservation Concern until that category was abolished). It
is threatened by habitat loss (as it is seemingly dependent on retreating
glaciers), disturbance by boats and oil spills. An estimated 7-15% of the world
population was killed during the Exxon Valdez oil spill (citation
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