Common Murre Uria aalge Scientific name definitions

David G. Ainley, David N. Nettleship, and Anne E. Storey
Version: 2.0 — Published August 6, 2021


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Common Murre has a circumpolar distribution, where it occurs from low Arctic and subarctic/temperate waters from 71–34°N in the western Arctic/North Pacific, and 78–43°N in the eastern Arctic/North Atlantic. At sea, they occur mostly over the continental shelf. They are not extensively migratory.

Breeding Range

Breeding sites mapped in Irons et al. (77), except for U. a. californica. In western North Pacific region: Chukchi Sea south along Asian coast of Bering Sea to Kamchatka (including Komandorski Islands), Sea of Okhotsk, to southern Sakhalin and northern Japan (Appendix 2). In eastern North Pacific region: Chukchi Sea south through Norton Sound and Bering Sea (St. Matthew, Nunivak, Pribilof islands) to Aleutian Islands and along coast to Queen Charlotte Islands (Appendix 2 and Appendix 3); Puget Sound south to northern Channel Islands (Appendix 3 and Appendix 4). In western North Atlantic region: Labrador (east from Nunarsuk Island) and southeastern Québec (North Shore of Gulf of St. Lawrence, Anticosti Island, Bonaventure Island, Bird Rocks, Magdalen Island) south to Newfoundland and New Brunswick/Nova Scotia (Bay of Fundy), and Maine (Gulf of Maine; 78; Appendix 5). In eastern North Atlantic region: Greenland and Iceland east to coast of Barents Sea, including Svalbard, and south to northern France and Portugal (Appendix 6, Appendix 7, Appendix 8, and Appendix 9).

Wintering Range

In western Pacific, ranges from southern limit of sea ice in Bering Sea south to vicinity of southernmost breeding areas; includes southern Japan and eastern Korean Peninsula. In eastern Pacific, from southern limit of sea ice in Bering Sea, over continental shelf waters, but among Aleutian Islands, south to southern California and, in years when sea temperatures are cold, occasionally northwestern Mexico (San Quintín, Baja California; 79, 80, 81, DGA). Those breeding in central California locations (i.e., southern end of range) tend to remain within a few hundred kilometers of breeding colonies during winter (27). In 1970s, when California breeding populations were small (and perhaps still decreasing; 82, 83), a large influx of murres from the north wintered in California waters (84); however, in the 2010s, when California populations had grown immensely, thus perhaps discouraging a migratory influx from elsewhere, murres tracked by GPS from central Oregon colonies moved north to waters off northern British Columbia (85). Similarly, of 12 murres tracked in 2012 summering off mouth of Columbia River (boundary of Oregon and Washington), all but one subsequently moved north to waters off British Columbia; one individual moved to central California (86). Off eastern North America, ranges from Newfoundland commonly south to Cape Cod, Massachusetts (and Grand Banks), occasionally to Virginia (Back Bay; 87, 88, 48, 78, 8). From Cape Cod to Long Island, New York, it is uncommon and sporadic; New Jersey to Maryland (and presumably Virginia), it is extremely rare (89). Initial dispersal from Newfoundland mostly in “random” directions, not north as surmised by Tuck (38), but wintering locations are mostly within 500 km of these colonies (90). Supposition of northern dispersal now known to be an artifact of a coast more heavily populated by humans (who find bands; A. J. Gaston in 88). In eastern Atlantic, from southern limit of sea ice south to breeding areas, including Portugal (8). Common Murre breeding in the United Kingdom, as true of central California murres (near southern end of range), winter in vicinity of or not far from breeding locations (i.e., those from Skomer Island, Wales, or Isle of May, Scotland) in waters off southern England and Ireland south to Brittany and Bay of Biscay (91, 92); murres of Barents Sea also apparently do not migrate very far south for the winter (PF; see map of tracks here). Winters, on average, farther south than Thick-billed Murre (Uria lomvia), although vagrants of the latter reported much farther south than the Common Murre (89).

Other Records

Sinaloa, west coast of Mexico (81). Storm-driven birds found inland on lakes via Gulf of St. Lawrence; e.g., Consecon Lake (Prince Edward County), Ontario (38), and Lake Saint-Jean, Québec (93); also Vermont, Maryland, and Virginia (94, 78), as well as North Carolina and Florida (89).

Historical Changes to the Distribution

In eastern Pacific, U. a. californica bred south to Channel Islands (about 100 pairs, Prince Island [Santa Barbara County], California) as late as 1912 (95, 96, 97); that southern colony re-established in 2011 (98). Several California and Oregon colonies were extirpated or severely reduced in 1800s and early 1900s (mostly by egging; see below); numbers in central California and Washington much reduced after mid-1970s, but in northern California and Oregon, much increased post-1950s (99, 100, 101, 102).

Loss of southernmost Prince Island colony due mainly to egg-gathering for private collections. Historical reductions in California and Oregon due largely to activities by early European settlers, especially egging and disturbance; subsequently to oil pollution and gill-netting, exacerbated by ocean warming and reduced productivity (103, 101); fishery management of forage fish initially had negative effects but with changes then positive effects on population growth (102, 82) In western Atlantic, extirpated from Bay of Fundy in mid-1800s, but recolonized by mid-1990s (89); see 47, and Conservation and Management: Effects of Human Activity. Population size in Britain appears little changed between 1800s and 1900s (104), though at specific sites changes have been detected, e.g., decrease at Skomer since 1930s (105); in the Baltic Sea numbers may be increasing owing to increased prey (106). During the winter of 1987 after a collapse in the capelin stock, the populations in northern Norway and Bjørnøya declined by 70–90% (107), but the populations have since then increased (108, 109). Murre populations at southern end of western Pacific range have decreased by orders of magnitude since the 1970s (110).

Distribution of the Common Murre
  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Distribution of the Common Murre

Recommended Citation

Ainley, D. G., D. N. Nettleship, and A. E. Storey (2021). Common Murre (Uria aalge), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, P. G. Rodewald, and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.commur.02