National Geographic : 1936 Jan
BIRDS OF THE NORTHERN SEAS Specimens have been obtained in the Aleutian Islands, where in certain localities it is fairly common, and scattered individ uals may be found in summer along the Pacific shores of the Alaska Peninsula. In Glacier Bay, Alaska, at the northern end of the inside passage, it is abundant. This species is frequently found in com pany with the ancient and marbled murre lets, but is wilder and more difficult to ap proach. It flies or dives with celerity, and in the air moves with great swiftness. To nest, the Kittlitz's murrelet flies in land and places its single egg on bare rock amid patches of snow on the high moun tains. Often these are distant from the sea, the location being so unusual that the egg, olive or buff, spotted with brown, was not discovered until 1913. Then one was found near Pavlof Bay, on the Alaska Peninsula. In winter this murrelet seems to retreat to Asiatic waters, though it is also possible that it frequents the open sea. Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) Traveling up the inside passage to Alaska, the sharp-eyed observer may see small black and white birds flying swiftly just above the quiet surface of the water. They are shy and alert, and ordinarily take wing when the ship is still at some dis tance. Seldom are they seen near at hand. These are the marbled murrelets, com mon and widely distributed along our west ern coasts, but birds of mystery so far as much of their life is concerned (Plate VI). The marbled murrelet feeds mainly on small fish, taken skillfully by diving, and also eats small mollusks. In the water it is quick and graceful, diving with ease and often traveling some distance under the surface. It rises on the wing with equal facility and darts away swiftly, attaining high speed immediately. In collecting specimens needed for the National Museum, I have found it difficult to approach. In spite of the fact that the marbled murrelet is a common bird, its home life is still largely unknown, though many natu ralists have devoted much time to an at tempt to solve the riddle of its breeding. In the Queen Charlotte group on the coast of British Columbia, nests have been reported 200 feet above the sea in burrows six feet deep or in deep crevices in rock, where the single egg rested on dry grass and leaves. An egg ready to be laid, taken from a bird captured near Prince of Wales Island by George G. Cantwell and now in the Na tional Museum, is pale yellow, spotted rather finely with black. It appears that most of these murrelets may make their nests amid inland forests in hilly country back from the sea, though little is definitely known concerning this. Marbled murrelets have been seen at dusk headed inland high above the water, but in the darkness it has not been possible to follow them. Again, their calls have been heard at night in inland localities. A young bird, only recently from the nest, was found dead in a road six miles inland from the coast of Oregon in 1918, and there are various similar reports. After nesting, this murrelet comes south and then can be found in rough or quiet waters wherever food is abundant. The marbled murrelet ranges in summer from Unalaska and Kodiak to northern California. In winter it occurs from Bering Sea to southern California. Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba) As a western representative of the black guillemot (Plate III), the present species is distinguished in life mainly by the wedge-shaped bar of black extending into the prominent white patch on the wing (Plate VII). In the hand it is found to be larger, to have the under wing-coverts brownish gray instead of white, and to possess 14 tail feathers instead of the 12 of the black guillemot of the Atlantic coast. Throughout the rocky coasts of south western Alaska, from Unga to far-distant Attu, I saw the pigeon guillemot along rough shores and in every harbor that we entered. Pairs or small companies rested on the water or perched on rocks. As I came near, they rose with whistled calls and swung away in quick flight, de ceiving in its rapidity. On land they stood upright, or relaxed to rest on the breast. The dark plumage, red feet, and bright red-lined mouth made a pleasing contrast of color. The nests of this species may be placed in caves, crevices, or crannies, or, where waves have cut caverns that penetrate be yond the reach of light, on open ledges.