Opinion Column

BIRDWATCH: More information on the Thick-Billed Murre

Ken Hooles

By Ken Hooles, Daily Observer

Getty images
Thick-billed Murre, seen here Wellfleet Harbor, Massachusetts - is an alcid which looks much like a penguin, however retains flight. The bird was recently spotted on Muskrat Lake.

Getty images Thick-billed Murre, seen here Wellfleet Harbor, Massachusetts - is an alcid which looks much like a penguin, however retains flight. The bird was recently spotted on Muskrat Lake.

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Last November, I reported on three rare birds that were found in the Muskrat Lake and Lake Dore areas. The most interesting of the three was the Thick-billed Murre. This was only the second record of this seabird in Renfrew County; the first was recorded by naturalists associated with the Museum of Nature back in 1915-20.

The Thick-billed Murre (Uria lomvia) is one of the most common seabirds in the North Atlantic Ocean region. Though quite abundant, these birds are slowly being threatened by modern fishing practices and sea pollution.

This Murre has sooty black upper parts and white under parts. Its white chest markings rise and meet its black neck and head near the throat area. It differs from the Common Murre and Razorbill in that its bill is shorter and broader.

The Thick-billed Murre is a gregarious bird and can be found with other seabirds in large rafts in the water. It is also found in small groups on rock edges, standing upright like a penguin.

This seabird forages for food while swimming, sometimes diving to depths of 200 feet and using its wings to fly underwater. It likes to eat fish, crustaceans, marine worms and squid.

The Thick-billed Murre is monogamous and likes to breed in large colonies. It’s nest primarily consists of a groove or crevice in a rock. There is no nest material.

This Murre only has one brood per year. The eggs of the Thick-billed Murre are incubated for 28 to 35 days, and the young, when hatched, remain in the nest for another 16 to 30 days. They leave the colony when they are about one-third grown and remain with the parents.

The Thick-billed Murre is quite common to abundant in its breeding grounds up north. During the rest of the year, they are essentially dispersed off the Atlantic Coast. It is a very rare visitor to central Canada and the Great Lakes Region. It was certainly nice to see one here!

On the local scene, winter has come with a vengeance with an abundance of snow, ice and cold weather. The lakes are fairly well frozen, with the odd open patch. It will be interesting to see what waterfowl was found this past week during the annual Winter Waterfowl count. The bird activity is now concentrated at the feeders and we should be enjoying many of our local winter birds and woodpeckers. However, we are still missing Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, Pine Grosbeaks, Red Crossbills and Northern Shrike. Also, I have not had any reports of Snowy, Great Grey or other northern Owls yet. Please, let me know if you see any of these birds. If you plan to travel along our country roads, look for Rough-legged and Red-tailed Hawks and flocks of Lapland Longspurs. These little birds should be passing through during the next few weeks.

On Dec. 31, Linda Clarke of Barron Canyon Road informed me that her daughter observed a Bald Eagle and several Crows feeding on something in the road near Letts Cemetery Road and Highway 41. It is great to get close-up views of these magnificent birds. Interesting sighting!

Finally, on a recent family visit to Oshawa, Rob Cunningham, also of Barron Canyon Road, had an opportunity to do some birdwatching at Cranberry Marsh in that area. He was fortunate to spot a Mute Swan, a Redhead and a Great Black-backed Gull. This was a great start to your bird watching season, Rob!

Please call me with your bird sightings at 613-735-4430, or email me at hooles@bell.net. For more information on upcoming nature events and other links to nature, just Google the Pembroke Area Field Naturalists’ website or ‘like’ us on Facebook.

broke Area Field Naturalists’ website or ‘like’ us on Facebook.



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