Tuesday, 20 December 2011

After Century's Absence, Seabirds' Return Surprises Scientists

Earlier this year, government scientists discovered a welcome bundle of joy: a nest of seabird chicks on the Channel Islands off California's coast. This is the first time baby birds of this species have been seen here since 1912.

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Park Service (NPS) discovered the California Common Murre (Uria aalge californica) chicks last July. The football-size seabirds are members of the auk family (Alcidae) and resemble black-and-white species of penguins. Like penguins, murres use their wings to "fly" deep underwater, but unlike penguins, they also fly in the air.

Historically, murres nested on Prince Island, a small islet off San Miguel Island within Channel Islands National Park. This colony disappeared nearly a century ago, likely as a result of human disturbance and egg harvesting.

In California, Common Murres are most abundant off central through northern California, with tens to hundreds of thousands of birds nesting at the Farallon Islands, off Trinidad Head, and at Castle Rock National Wildlife Refuge. Smaller colonies are found farther south, on nearshore islets along the Big Sur coast and, now, once again on Prince Island.


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