Species and Plant Community
Accounts for Identified Wildlife

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Birds - Seabirds

ANCIENT MURRELET (Synthliboramphus antiquus)

Status

The ancient murrelet is BLUE-listed and designated as VULNERABLE in Canada by COSEWIC, primarily due to threats stemming from introduced predators such as rats and raccoons. Oil spills and drift nets are also threats. British Columbia supports half of the known breeding population of this species, over half of which nest at only four sites.

Ecology

The ancient murrelet is a small seabird that feeds largely on plankton in areas of upwelling such as narrows, channels and other areas of strong current. It comes to land only to breed, first arriving on colonies in late March and departing by mid- to late-June. It is a burrow-nester, and breeds up to approximately 500 m inland on islands covered in temperate rainforest. Unlike most other seabirds of the family Alcidae, ancient murrelets typically produce two eggs, from which precocious young hatch. Within two days of hatching chicks depart from the colony with the parents, and do not return until they are ready to attempt breeding, usually at three years of age.

Distribution

Ecoprovince: Ecosections

Biogeoclimatic units

Breeding range

Essentially all of the B.C. population of the ancient murrelet breed on the Queen Charlotte archipelago, where 31 breeding colonies are known.

Nonbreeding range

The ancient murrelet lives at sea outside the breeding season.

Habitat requirements

Broad ecosystem units


Structural stage

7: old forest

Critical habitats and habitat features

All known colonies are on forested islands where the major trees are Sitka spruce, western hemlock and western redcedar. Nesting burrows are tunneled under roots protruding at the base of trees, stumps, exposed bedrock or fallen logs. Forest is the preferred habitat when available, but in some areas burrows are found in rocky grasslands.

Like most seabirds, the ancient murrelet is highly vulnerable to introduced predators. Colonies are also sensitive to disturbance by humans, even by foot traffic, particularly when burrows are dense and shallow.

Selected references

Gaston, A.J. 1992. The ancient murrelet: A natural history in the Queen Charlotte Islands.
T & A D Poyser, London. 249 pp.

Rodway, M.S. 1991. Status and conservation of breeding seabirds in British Columbia.
ICBP Tech. Publ. No. 11.

Rodway, M.S., M.J.F. Lemon and G.W. Kaiser. 1988. British Columbia seabird colony
inventory: Report #1 - East coast Moresby Island. Can. Wildl. Serv., Pacific and Yukon Region, B.C. Tech. Rep. Ser. No. 50.

_____. 1990. British Columbia seabird colony inventory: Report #2 - West coast
Moresby Island. Can. Wildl. Serv., Pacific and Yukon Region, B.C. Tech. Rep. Ser. No. 65.

_____. 1994. British Columbia seabird colony inventory: Report #6 - Major colonies on
the west coast of Graham Island. Can. Wildl. Serv., Pacific and Yukon Region, B.C. Tech. Rep. Ser. No. 95.


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