Umpqua Valley Audubon Society

 Event Report – 6/26 and 6/27/24   A Marbled Murrelet Survey at Cape Perpetua 


Event Report

marbled murrelets
Marbled Murrelet

      Imagine for a moment that you are a Marbled Murrelet. You have a mate and have created your nest in the canopy of a giant Sitka Spruce tree.  Your one egg has hatched.  You take turns with your mate, leaving the nest to eat and bring back food for the baby.  You fly down the creek bed as light returns to the forest, and the dawn chorus of Wrens, Robins, Warblers, Jays, Kingfishers, Crows, Ravens and other birds fills the air with songs.  The air is full of moisture, everything is alive…the stomata on the leaves of the plants are opening with the vibration of the bird calls.  You are on a mission…to feed in the mighty Pacific Ocean.  Once you break free of the land you become a creature of the ocean.  Your body is built to dive down to depths of up to 150 feet! You can “fly” underwater!   You are a streamlined torpedo in the water seeking and capturing the small forage fish that are a crucial part of this vibrant food chain.  Twenty-four hours later, you make the return journey to your nest with a fish in your beak to feed your chick.  Your partner will then make their journey, and the cycle will continue until the baby is capable of making the journey itself, after just a month from hatching.  Imagine for just a moment that you are a Marbled Murrelet in the glorious virgin timber forest of our lovely Oregon coastline sitting on your nest.

     Last week I was a participant in a Marbled Murrelet bird survey near Cape Perpetua.  I didn’t know anything about these small seemingly shy and sensitive birds as I drove out to meet the team.  It turns out they are amazing!

     They’ve evolved to nest solely in old growth forests (in trees 200 years old or older). They nest in the ancient trees that have limbs that are as big as most trees!  They don’t build a nest but rather adjust what’s there. They use the intersection of the tree trunk to the limb where there is a nice bed of moss and lichens. It is here that they create their little nest from the materials there. 

          They can nest up to 50 miles inland of the ocean. That could mean a 100-mile round trip to bring back food for the young ones, once hatched. This tiny bird weighing less than 7.8 ounces is as at home on and in the ocean as it is in the sky. 

     There were 10 people in our team and about 50 folks in total on the June morning at Cape Perpetua Campground.  This was an official outing of Bird Alliance of Oregon and hosted by Paul Englemeyer of Ten Mile Creek Sanctuary. We woke at 3:30 am after an evening presentation in Yachats.  Small stoves lit up the campsite kitchen and quick cups of coffee were sipped as we gathered our gear for the hikes.  We drove to one of the creeks, parked and headed up a lovely (but still very dark) trail passing monumental Sitka Spruce trees as we headed inland.  After only about a mile, we stopped and got a lesson in proper tallying from our group leader, Abigail DeYoung. It turns out we were looking for a VERY SMALL bird flying above the canopy.  We all looked in different directions standing along the trail at a small opening in the canopy.   Starting at 4:50 am we all began craning our necks upward.  One of our team was put in a very productive spot.  She began calling out “two flying west to east” and we all strained to see them.  They were much like the size of Swifts and fast!  I personally saw 6 in the two-hour survey time.  Our group saw the most birds of all the sites. Our team saw 27 birds in two hours.  The others reported much lower counts and some groups saw none. 

     Following the hike, we returned to our camp and broke down the soaking wet tents.  We made our breakfasts over our stoves and at 9am we met in Yachats on the coast at the state park to try to spot some of the Murrelets foraging.  They were hard to see on the ocean as the wind had kicked up, the surf was rough, and it was raining intermittently but we were able to get a few spotting scopes on one or two and most of us got to glimpse this tiny bird as it bobbed on the surface and then quickly dove out of sight! 

     In 1992 the Marbled Murrelet was listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act.  In 1995 it was listed as threatened under the Oregon Endangered Species Act.  It was “uplisted” (reclassified) in July of 2021 as Endangered.

     You would be welcome to join in the survey next year.  UVAS would like to bring a group out for the count and the presentation.  Please keep an eye out on our website for updates about this event next Spring.

Tracy Maxwell

Umpqua Valley Audubon Society and AmeriCorps member.



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