- A quail-sized seabird measuring 24–27 cm (9.5–10.5 inches)
- Black head, white bill, gray back, white below, white plume over eye, small white-barred area at side of neck.
- In winter, wide white area on throat and face, back solid slate-gray; similar marbled murrelet has white patch on flanks, dark bill
Open ocean; nests on oceanic islets with enough soil for a burrow, often under heavy timber.
Two brown to green eggs, spotted with brown and lavender, in a burrow dug by the adults.
Breeds on offshore islets of North Pacific and mainland shores south to central British Columbia. Winters south to southern California. Also in Asia.
Low, shrill whistling notes.
The German ornithologist who first described this bird thought its white plumes similar to an old man’s white locks; hence its Latin name antiquus, from which its English name is derived. By moving to and from land at twilight, these birds avoid most predators, with the exception of peregrine falcons. Ancient murrelets are not strong flyers, and after heavy storms, which may carry them as far inland as the Great Lakes, masses of dead bodies sometimes wash ashore on the Pacific Coast.