COMMON MURRE – (Uria aalge)
DESCRIPTION: The Common Murre is mostly black during the breeding season, with white under parts. The pointed bill, eyes and legs are black. There is sometimes a thin white eye ring that continues as a fine line below the eye, as if the bird was wearing a monocle. Both sexes are similar. Outside the breeding season the throat and cheeks are white. Sexes are similar. This species measures around 45 cm (16 inches).
NAME: The English name ‘Murre’ might have an onomatopoeic origin, as it resembles the bird’s call. The Latin genus name ‘Uria’ is from Greek and would refer to ‘a dark water bird’, and the Latin species name ‘aalge’ is from Danish and means ‘an auk’. The common murre is also called ‘Common Guillemot’.
HABITAT: Rocky shores, cliffs, small islands.
DIET: Mostly fish, but also crustaceans and other sea invertebrates.
NESTING: Common murres nest in colonies on rocky shorelines and cliffs, and do not build a nest. The breeding areas are very dense, to the point where incubating parents can touch each other. The eggs show very different colors and spot patterns, which help parents recognize theirs. The conical shape of the egg also prevents it from falling off the ‘nesting’ site, instead it will roll in a circle. One egg is laid, incubated by both parents, who also both feed the chick.
DISTRIBUTION: The overall breeding range covers Arctic coastlines around the globe. These birds spend the winter along the coasts in North America, Europe and Asia where the water does not freeze.
ON PEI: The common murre does not breed on Prince Edward Island. There have been ‘rare’ to ‘uncommon’ sightings of this bird on the island in the fall however, during migration.
CONSERVATION: Although vulnerable to oil spill pollution and fishing with gill nets, the global population of the common murre appears stable. In the Maritimes breeding colonies were extirpated about 100 years ago by hunting and egg harvesting. A few colonies still exist on rocky islands in the Bay of Fundy, and the only way they can survive egg predation by large gulls is by nesting under large rocks. Common murres are vulnerable to human disturbances in their colonies, either from rock climbers or birders, leaving their nests and chicks when frightened. The latter then become easy targets for gulls and other birds of prey.
NOTES: The Common Murre is a seabird that is part of the same family as the Puffin. They look like Penguins, but are not related to them. The common murre is an excellent diver that pursues its fish prey underwater using their wings for swimming, and can reach depths of some 170 meters (560 feet). They do not fly well however, and stand upright when on land.
Guillemot eggs as human food: this bird’s eggs are sold in markets in some European countries and are considered a delicacy. The photo below was taken at a market in Iceland.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Thick-billed Murre, Razorbill
Common Murre (.pdf document, Alaska Fish and Wildlife Service)
http://www.npolar.no/en/species/common-guillemot.html (Norwegian Polar Institute)
https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
http://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/birds/murres.html (Hinterland Who’s Who)
COMMON MURRE – (Uria aalge)