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Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus


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Ancient Murrelet, winter plumage on water
credit: USFWS

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Family: Alcidae, Auks, Murres, Puffins view all from this family

Description ADULT SUMMER Has mainly gray back and upper wings, with black flight feathers. Nape, crown, throat, and upper breast are black; underparts are otherwise white. Note white "eyelids," white plumelike crown feathers, and yellow bill. In flight, white underwing coverts contrast with dark flight feathers. ADULT WINTER Similar, but black on throat and chest is less extensive and white "plumes" on crown are absent. JUVENILE Similar to winter adult, but throat and chest are mainly white.

Dimensions Length: 9 1/2-10 1/2" (24-27 cm)

Habitat Locally common, but declining. Breeds in burrows on islands and vulnerable to introduced ground predators. At other times, found at sea.

Observation Tips Seen on sea in vicinity of breeding colonies, but most colonies are themselves hard to access. Occasional in inshore waters in winter.

Range Alaska, Western Canada, California, Northwest

Voice Utters loud chirping calls.

Similar Species Xantus's Murrelet S. hypoleucus (L 9.5-10 in) has black upperparts and white underparts, including throat; breeds on islands off California and Mexico and otherwise found at sea.

Discussion Strikingly marked, plump-bodied alcid. Swims well (note short-necked appearance) and dives frequently. Sexes are similar.