Common Murre Uria aalge Scientific name definitions

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

Movements and Migration

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Dispersal and Site Fidelity

Natal Philopatry

Genetic evidence shows kin groups cluster together (44), while groups of bridled birds also congregate together (153), together indicating a high degree of natal philopatry. A degree of natal philopatry also indicated by band recoveries: Isle of Canna, Scotland, 78.7% of birds banded as chicks bred in natal subcolony (154); Isle of May, Scotland, 57% breeding for first time did so in natal subcolony (155, 156). However, genetic studies also indicate intercolony mixing (43); similarly, small numbers of banded immatures from other colonies noted at Isle of May, 1987–1991 (n = 61 birds, 0.17% of all chicks banded in 1986–1989), but only 1 or 2 subsequently bred (157). In a subsequent more sophisticated analysis, integrating abundance and demographics, Reynolds et al. (158) estimated permanent pre-recruitment emigration from the natal breeding assemblage to be 19.5% at Isle of May. Intercolony mixing under extensive population decline and colony loss also indicated by individual colony growth rates far exceeding species' reproductive capacity, e.g., 29% at Tatoosh Island, Washington, during 1975–1990 (159) and unusual corresponding changes in nearby colonies within a cluster of colonies (101). Concept of a meta-population – i.e., nearby colonies not demographically independent – little explored in this species, but warranted; almost immediate occupation of extirpated site on coastal California, upon social attraction procedures being introduced, with large populations within 48 km, is testimony to this (160, see also 161, Conservation and Management, and Priorities for Future Research).

Fidelity to Breeding Site and Winter Home Range

Breeding sites used repeatedly by same birds (see Breeding: Nest Site). Populations at specific sites may have specific wintering areas, as indicated by satellite-tagging in Alaska. Birds breeding at Cape Thompson and Cape Lisburne, Chukchi Sea, Alaska, shared common area in southeastern Bering Sea in 1995; individuals returned to same area in 1996 (149). Murres in central California largely disperse from breeding colonies, remaining within a few hundred kilometers, but visit the colony periodically through the winter (27); similar pattern for murres in Scotland (92). General movements between colonies and wintering areas reviewed for western Atlantic populations by Brown (87); for eastern Atlantic, see Habitat in Non Breeding Range (also 92).

Dispersal from Breeding Site or Family Group

Chicks typically depart from breeding ledges at about 3 weeks after hatching with their male parent. Chick and father remain together at sea for several weeks. Females and unsuccessful birds visit the colony for some time after chicks fledge.

Migration Overview

High-latitude populations migratory, to escape winter sea ice, especially those breeding on coasts of Barents, Greenland, Chukchi, and Bering seas and off Labrador; mid-latitude populations partially migratory; and lower-latitude populations sedentary (see Figure 1). In general, dispersal patterns complex, requiring further examination, particularly in North Atlantic and Gulf of Alaska.

Timing and Routes of Migration

Other than being pushed southward by sea ice, autumn movements little known. In Bering Sea, large numbers winter among Aleutian Islands and in northern Gulf of Alaska (e.g., 147) and must be from the north. Among southern populations of eastern Pacific, movements less extensive but confusing. According to some (162, 163, 126), Oregon and Washington colonies disperse northward to Strait of Juan de Fuca and vicinity, consistent with very recent tracking (85), but in 1970s tens of thousands reported moving from Oregon into California waters (84); central California birds move inshore and southward, especially to Monterey Bay and southern California (84, 24), but then, following the molt, begin to irregularly visit colonies (27). Colonies on east coast of the United Kingdom disperse into the North Sea, and begin to visit colonies irregularly beginning in January (164, 92). For Common Murres breeding in northern Iceland, the core molting areas are off the coast of northern Iceland and off eastern Greenland. Major winter areas are off the coast of northern Iceland and the Mid-Atlantic ridge west of Iceland (165). Common Murres breeding in the Barents Sea have their major molting and winter areas in the southeastern Barents Sea (166). In the western Atlantic, movements are complex: random August–September dispersal away from coastal areas to outer continental shelf, especially Labrador Banks, then south by December, as sea ice begins to form, to Scotian Shelf – Bay of Fundy – New England region (152, 87, 88, 48, 167). Recently, birds from Newfoundland colonies have spent November and December near the Grand Banks, a movement of 400–700 km, and then moved inshore in January and February (90, 168); sighted as far south as Virginia (89).

Spring migration even less known. In Bering Sea, northward movement likely timed to highly variable disappearance of sea ice. A large March exodus occurs in some years from Strait of Georgia, British Columbia, and eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, Washington (24). In spring in Atlantic, northward movement to breeding areas by March–April; distances traveled can be considerable.

Migratory Behavior

Postbreeding dispersal by adult males largely by swimming as they accompany chicks away from colonies toward chick-rearing and molting areas; females and subadults disperse largely by flying. Late-dispersing birds must swim, as all flight feathers lost during Prebasic molt (see Appearance: Molts).

Prebreeding movements more concerted, especially at highest latitudes, where extensive winter and spring sea ice precluded murre presence. Prebreeding movements less concerted in ice-free areas, since many birds return to colony areas well before breeding, e.g., at Farallon Islands in California and Isle of May in Scotland (27, 92). Along California coast, Storer (35) reported “a northward migration” of nearly 1,000 birds/h (90% Basic plumage; presumably northern California or Oregon birds) flying past occupied Point Reyes colony (5,000 murres in Alternate plumage) on 13 February 1949. Such movements may have occurred in cooler-water period of late 1940s–1960s; not apparent in recent warmer climate, nor with California populations now orders of magnitude larger (thus possibly discouraging birds from the north, see Historical Changes to the Distribution).

Control and Physiology of Migration

Not studied.

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