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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote®/Common Murres’ Swimming Migration

Air Date: Week of

Most birds migrate along a flyway, but as Michael Stein of BirdNote® explains, some choose the sea-route. (Photo: © Tom Grey)



GELLERMAN: Fish gotta swim, and birds gotta…… Well it turns out some of them gotta swim too - as Michael Stein explains in this week’s BirdNote ®.


This Common Murre gets up close and personal with its chick. (Photo: Finley and Bohlman)

STEIN: When we think of avian migration, we think of birds in flight. But certain groups of seabirds called Common Murres migrate north by swimming. Some Pacific Coast Murres paddle north to the sheltered bays of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to feed on herring and other small fish.


STEIN: Bob Boekelheide, Director of the Dungeness River Audubon Center in Sequim, Washington, explains:

BOEKELHEIDE: It turns out that when Common Murres go to sea with their chicks, the chicks are only maybe three, three and a half weeks old. These small chicks jump off the cliffs, land in the water, they can’t fly. The adult parent that goes with the chick is the father, and at that time the father will swim with the chick. Well, there are no colonies of Common Murres in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, so they had to come from these other colonies out there on the outer coast.

The juvenile Common Murre learns to swim from its father. (Photo: © Tom Grey)

Well, the interesting thing about it is that these Murres do not fly here as far as we know. At that point the chick cannot fly. They’re only a third grown for their normal adult size. And so they swim in the water from the outer coastline, certainly from the coast of Washington, and perhaps as far as Oregon and maybe even Northern California, traveling north along the coast and eventually ending up in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.


STEIN: Heading north, they live on the sea. Imagine! A journey that spans two months and may cover hundreds of miles.


GELLERMAN: Michael Stein of BirdNote®. And for some great photos – and more – paddle over to our website, loe.org.



Sounds of Common Murres provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Call of adult and chick at sea recorded by T.G. Sander; sound of a colony by M. Fisher.

BirdNote®/Murres’ Swimming Migration was written by Todd Peterson


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