Courtesy Kenn Kaufman
Common Murres are widespread on the Pacific coast from Alaska to California, but more local in the east, where they are found primarily off eastern Canada. They winter at sea.
A legend for the range map to the right can be found here
Common Murres favor cool ocean waters, both near and far from shore. They nest on coasts and islands alike—anywhere there are cliff ledges or flat, bare rocks atop sea stacks. Common Murres typically nest on wide ledges on rocky cliffs. Most Washington colonies, by contrast, are located on sea stacks and flat-topped islands that are partially vegetated or bare. Common Murres spend much of the time on the open ocean and in large bays. They are found closer to rocky shorelines during the breeding season, and farther offshore during the non-breeding season.
Common Murres, though somewhat awkward on land and in flight, are quite agile in the sea. Their diet consists of a wide variety of fish, including herring, cod, capelin, sand lance, and haddock, as well as crustaceans, marine worms, and squid They are agile surface divers that can dive more than 150 feet deep and remain submerged for up to one minute at a time. They use their strong wings to fly underwater as they pursue small schooling fish. They mostly catch small fish up to 7 inches in length, which they carry in their bills lengthwise.
Common Murres nest in large, dense colonies on rocky offshore ocean islands, often in the company of numerous other nesting birds. Murres are usually found on the upper parts of sea cliffs, below puffins and gulls but above kittiwakes and guillemots. Common Murres first breed at 4 to 5 years of age. Pairs exhibit a high degree of site and mate fidelity. Upon arrival at nest sites, they participate in courtship displays. They do not build nests. The female lays a single egg each year. Common Murre eggs are pointed at one end; when pushed, they roll around in a circle, preventing them from rolling off the nesting ledge. The variation in egg color and markings allows parent murres to recognize their own eggs when they return from sea. As many as 20 pairs may incubate in one square meter. Incubation lasts about 5 weeks; both sexes incubate and feed the newly hatched chick. Often, to prevent young chicks from jumping off the ledge prematurely, adults stand between the chicks and the cliff edge. About three weeks after hatching, before it is able to fly, the chick leaves the nest, leaps off and flutters down to the sea, a drop of up to 1500 feet. The male then escorts out the chick to sea, where he feeds and cares for it until it is independent.
Common Murres are permanent residents in many areas, but far-north populations migrate south when the water freezes. Murres off both coasts move south in winter, toward both New England and southern California waters. Washington's breeding population does not appear to migrate.