Murres occur in cooler waters of the North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans and adjacent parts of the Arctic Ocean. Common murres breed primarily in boreal and low arctic waters; most thick-billed murres breed farther north in low and high arctic waters.
Murres often breed in dense colonies on coastal cliffs and islands, laying a single, large egg on bare rock ledges on the cliff face or surface. They normally first breed when 5 years old. Incubation, shared by both parents, takes 32-34 days. A single chick is fed at a breeding site for 15-20 days and then taken to sea by one parent (usually the male), who remains to guard and feed the chick for about 4-8 weeks.
In Canada, both species are most abundant on the Atlantic coast. Small numbers of common murres breed in BC; thick-bills in the western Arctic. Almost 90% of eastern North American common murres breed in Newfoundland, with about 67% (400 000 to 450 000 pairs) at FUNK ISLAND.
Breeding distribution of thick-bills is also restricted; most breed at 11 sites in the eastern Arctic. The thick-billed murre population in eastern Canada totals 1.6 million pairs, representing the entire population in eastern North America and 75% of all thick-bills breeding in the western North Atlantic. Numbers of both species have been seriously reduced over the last century because of human disturbance, hunting, oil pollution and probably commercial fisheries development.
Murres are hunted by residents of Newfoundland and Labrador and by native people. Newfoundland residents were given their hunting right soon after they entered Confederation in 1949. However, until 1994, hunters could kill as many murres as they could access, with daily takes often exceeding 500 birds per hunter. Totals of about 600 000 to 900 000 were shot annually during the 1970s and 1980s, with current levels reduced to 200 000 to 400 000 birds each year. Although regulations now exist, enforcement is difficult.
Author D.N. NETTLESHIP
R.D. Elliot et al, The Harvest of Murres in Newfoundland from 1977-78 to 1987-88 (1991); A.J. Gaston and D.N. Nettleship, The Thick-billed Murres of Prince Leopold Island: A Study of the Breeding Ecology of a Colonial High Arctic Seabird (1981); D.N. Nettleship, "Family Alcidae (Auks)," Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol 3: Hoatzin to Auks (1996); Nettleship and T.R. Birkhead, The Atlantic Alcidae: The Evolution, Distribution and Biology of the Auks Inhabiting the Atlantic Ocean and Adjacent Water Areas (1985); L.M. Tuck, The Murres: Their Distribution, Populations and Biology -- A Study of the Genus Uria (1961).
Links to Other Sites
See a description of the natural history and typical habitat of the Marbled Murrelet in Canada. From the "Hinterland Who's Who" website. Also includes video clips, summaries of related conservation issues, and educational resources.
All About Birds
Search this online bird identification guide for information on specific bird species found in North America. Click on the dynamic map of eBird sightings for a magnified view. From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the US.
Canadian Biodiversity Website
A great information source for all budding biologists. Learn about biodiversity theory, natural history, and conservation issues. From McGill’s Redpath Museum.
Hinterland Who's Who
Check out the extensive "Hinterland Who's Who" website for illustrated "Species Fact Sheets" about mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects found in Canada. Also covers related conservation and biodiversity issues and includes related multimedia and educational resources. From the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Federation.
Wilderness and Ecological Reserves
Click on "Find a Reserve" for information about each of the wilderness and ecological reserves in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The website for Arctic Mission, a scientific voyage through the Arctic’s fabled North-West Passage. Features interactive maps, videos, photos and written observations about the landscape, climate, and wildlife that inhabit this region. From the National Film Board.