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03/24/2011

Mysterious Bird Piques Curiosities

Out in the Pacific Northwest Sierra Club activists and our allies are working together to protect one of the most unusual and unknown birds in North America. The Marbled Murrelet is a member of the alcid, or auk, family of swimming and surface-diving birds. The Marbled Murrelets were first “discovered’ in 1778 by naturalists on one of Captain Cook’s voyages up the pacific coast of North America. Amazingly, the first Marbled Murrelet nest wasn’t scientifically documented until 1974 – 194 years later. MarbMurrelet Why did it take so long to figure out where these birds were nesting? Because unlike other ocean birds that nest on the shoreline the Marbled Murrelet nests up to 50 miles inland 150 feet up in the branches of old growth forests. This is also the reason why this bird is endangered; as we have logged our old growth forests the Marbled Murrelet has lost its prime nesting habitat.


The Northwest office of the Sierra club hosted an event at the Seattle REI featuring Maria Ruth , author of the book “Rare Bird,” and her fascinating knowledge of the rare and threatened Marbled Murrelet. Maria offered an audience of captivated conservationists (and one tug boat captain) what little is known about the seabird that will only nest in old growth forest, a destination miles away from their feeding grounds in the sea. Who knew that the Murrelet is the only bird capable of propelling itself underwater with its wings before seamlessly breaking the surface of the ocean and taking flight? Learning about its long journey to nest and its struggle to reproduce —laying only one egg at a time— reminded us of both the precarious conditions precious life on our planet must endure to survive, and of humanity’s looming threat to earth’s natural wonders.


Our Seattle Resilient Habitats Team was particularly excited to host Maria as she touched on important themes of habitat connectivity, effective public lands management, and the human pressure development and consumption put on Murrelet populations in California, Oregon and Washington. As our old growth forests become increasingly crowded with development, animals like the Marbled Murrelet demonstrate the continued need for viable habitat near Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean.
Maria and Murrelet chick While the Marbled Murrelet enjoys its protected status on federal land, its core populations in Southwest Washington State are located in an area dominated by state trust lands and private holdings by Weyerhaeuser and other timber interests. Conservationists like Maria are becoming increasingly worried that these timber interests will prevent necessary action to safeguard the remaining Murrelet habitat.


To address this concern the Sierra Club Resilient Habitats Team are working closely with the Washington Forest Law Center to convince the Department of Natural Resources and Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark to follow the law and set aside some of the state trust land for Marbled Murrelet recovery. The attendees at our presentation agreed, filling out our postcard and taking a few with them to share with their friends. It is our hope that the Commissioner will do the right thing and support efforts to follow the most recent Marbled Murrelet science report and protect dwindling Murrelet nesting habitat.

Click here to listen to the Marbled Murrelet.

To learn more about our work in the Pacific Northwest click here.

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