Synthliboramphus antiquus

DescriptionAncient Murrelet are seen on a whale watching boat tour with Eagle Wing Tours in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on Vancouver Island.

  • 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

Habitat

Open ocean; nests on oceanic islets with enough soil for a burrow, often under heavy timber.

Nesting

Two brown to green eggs, spotted with brown and lavender, in a burrow dug by the adults.

Range

Breeds on offshore islets of North Pacific and mainland shores south to central British Columbia. Winters south to southern California. Also in Asia.

Voice

Low, shrill whistling notes.

Discussion

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.