SPECIES

Common Murre Uria aalge Scientific name definitions

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

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

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Vocalizations

Communication critical in very dense breeding colonies; maintains order in this highly aggressive species (see Behavior: Agonistic Behavior). Mate and neighbor recognition especially important, with frequent reaffirmation of identity. Therefore, breeding colonies very noisy. Vocal signals also critical for individual recognition to maintain contact between male and chick post-fledging in the dark, foggy, and stormy seas, when a 2-min dive by a parent can take it many meters away.

Development

No evidence of vocal learning. Chicks exchange calls with parents even before hatching; begin with short peep calls. Longer, multiple-frequency calls develop by second week posthatch (286; see also 5). Schommer and Tschanz (287, 12) reported that captive chicks emit 9 different calls. All intergrade considerably, often differing in intensity, rate, etc., making phonetic distinction difficult (12; sonograms of calls in 287). Focus here is on Peep Call and 3 more distinct, frequency-modulated calls used by older chicks.

Peep Call. Short single note, standard "inverted U" on sonogram; primarily given quietly by very young chicks with louder versions by older chicks.

Frequency-modulated Calls. Calls become longer after first week posthatch and develop multiple frequency peaks: Trumpet and weeo (288). (Pre) Departure Call probably develops from weeo into piu-piu in Thick-billed Murre (288); described for Common Murre as PLEEo PLEEo (12). Just before cliff departure with chick, males emit Luring Crow Call and chicks the Departure Call. These parent-offspring recognition calls (287, 288) presumably help male parent and chicks to reunite after cliff departure. Thereafter, chicks call frequently to maintain contact. During feeding bouts at sea, chicks silent when parent underwater but issue loud calls in response to loud Crow Calls after parent surfaces (H. R. Carter and S. G. Sealy, unpublished data). Parent-chick vocal recognition assures feeding of one's own chick, although some unattended chicks beg from nonparents. After being fed a fish, chick again calls loudly until adult dives or stops the feeding bout (H. R. Carter and S. G. Sealy, unpublished data).

Vocal Array

Not considered to have a "song" in usual sense. Descriptions of calls based on literature (286, 12, 8), data from Great Island, Newfoundland (AES, unpublished data), as well as Thick-billed Murre (Uria lomvia) accounts (5, 288). Calls of both murre species somewhat similar, but most intensively studied in Common Murre. Some calls, notably Adow and Nod used in more restricted behavioral contexts (see below) in Common Murre. Geographic variation not studied.

As also described for Thick-billed Murre, vocalizations of adult Common Murre "a variety of guttural calls given, from faint urr to loud emphatic 'aargh'" (5). Adult calls low pitched; frequency modulation absent in some chick calls (AES).

Crow Call. Described phonetically as ARR-ahh. Tschanz (286) distinguished several contexts used by both sexes, specifically Battle-Crowing, which involve agonistic encounters with neighbors or intruders, and Reception- and Contact-Crowing which are used in greeting during brooding changeovers. During greeting, Crow Calls may be followed or answered with Laugh Calls (see below). Males often Crow prior to copulation. A softer form of Crow, the Luring Call (286), is used by males when encouraging chicks to approach cliff edges to depart.

Laugh Call. A prolonged RAH-rah-rah-rah, in which last syllables gradually decrease in amplitude (5, 288), also referred to as Barking Call (286). Used in pair greetings during incubation and chick-rearing. Also used during prelaying displays in which pair members orient bills down (called foot-looking in 8) and manipulate nearby pebbles. Displaying pairs, or parents calling to chicks, sometimes use quiet versions, consisting of one or a few end syllables (may be similar to Thick-billed Murre's yuk call of 288). Males also use call before and during copulation.

Nod or Alarm-Bowing Call. Similar to Thick-billed Murre's nod call (5, 288), a single-syllable urrr. Name refers to accompanying neck extension and head-nodding, also called alarm-bowing (286). Combination of visual and vocal display given in response to potential danger, with head-bobbing display highly contagious: when one bird begins, others in the vicinity do so as well. Intense displays often lead to cliff departure by all birds during prelaying period, and by nonbreeders and nonattending parents later in season. Only used in alarm situations (286, 289, 12).

Adow Call. Short 2-syllable call used by females before (perhaps to initiate) and during copulation. Accompanied by a head toss and repeated periodically, one Adow Call to about 4 rah-rah syllables of male's Laugh Call (290, 12). Always uttered during completed copulations, but often not during unsuccessful attempts (291). No evidence for Adow Call in other contexts (AES and students). Adow, or a similar call, sometimes used during (possibly stressful) interactions between parents and chicks (286, 288).

Growl. Long (often > 2 s), low intensity and low frequency call given by sitting bird. A variety of softer, shorter argh calls given by incubating or brooding birds; may be short forms of either Laugh or Crow calls.

Phenology

Occurs throughout period of breeding-site occupation.

Daily Pattern of Vocalizing

No daily pattern.

Places of Vocalizing

Most calls given at colony, but adult Crow Call and chick's weeo given at sea, especially if the two become separated. Crow Call sometimes heard at sea even without presence of chicks.

Gender Differences

Both males and females give the same calls, with a few exceptions. Crow Call given by both males and females, though a version of the Crow Call, the Luring Call, given only by males as they encourage chicks to depart the breeding colony (286). Only males give the Laughing Call, and only females are known to give the Adow Call.

Social Context and Presumed Functions of Vocalizations

See Vocal Array, above.

Nonvocal Sounds

None significant. Rapidly beating wings, necessary to sustain flight, clearly audible.

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