Back to Posts

Mystery Bird

Posted in Ecological

As a guide, I know the marine mammals and sea creatures that get people excited. What really makes my day is when a guest connects to a less common animal. Who comes to the San Juan Islands to see a leather sea star? A marbled murrelet? A nudibranch? One day it might change, but for now, not many. It’s my job to share these cool animals to you.

My hope as a guide is that you leave the San Juan Islands with a sense of stewardship toward the special animals and places here on Earth. First of all, that requires me, your guide, to keep you safe. We have weekly training sessions to keep our safety skills dialed. Beyond that, Crystal Seas hold naturalist workshops, creates opportunities to talk to our local scientists, and constantly id sharing stay up to date facts on the local marine ecosystem. Luckily, we are all obsessed with the animals and ecosystems of of the San Juan Islands! It’s easy to see our passion when you go on a trip with us. We will not only get you excited about orcas and bald eagles, but about the lesser known animals too.

To start that process here and now, I want to introduce you to a small bird who was a mystery to scientists until 1974: the Marbled Murrelet.

The Marbled Murrelet gets its name from the ever changing pattern and colors of its feathers. In the winter, they are black and white and during the summer breeding season, they are a more neutral brown and white. Their feather take on a marbled look! They are small birds, about the size of a robin, and are in the Alcidae family.

But why were these birds a mystery to scientists until 1974? Because no one could figure out where they nest! If you look at their shape, size, and feet, it seems like these birds would stay close to the water. They have bigger webbed feet to help them swim and strong wings with a thick layer of waterproof feathers to help them dive up to 45 feet underwater. Of course they would stick close to the water! But instead, these birds fly up to 100 miles to and from their homes in old growth trees! Imagine if your grocery story was 100 miles away. Not a short jaunt for a little bird.

Now imagine all the barriers this little bird has. Traveling 100 miles to a nest every day! Swimming underwater to catch food! Living in the very trees that humans cut down!

The Marbled Murrelet has suffered through the continued logging battles through the 1900s, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 (killed an estimated 8400 birds), getting stuck in nets from fishing, and climate change effecting their ecosystem.

They are listed as “threatened” by the Federal government and “endangered” by Washington State. Which is good news, because that means there are effort to help the little bird!

Come out to San Juan Island for a chance to see the little football shaped bird bouncing across the water, flying high toward old growth forests, or diving deep to catch some lunch.

Brooke grew up spending her time on the lakes, rivers, and forests of Michigan. She graduated from Central Michigan University in 2015 with a degree in Outdoor Recreation and Environmental Science all while spending almost every weekend biking, rock climbing, skiing or ice climbing. She spends her summers guiding for Crystal Seas and TerraTrek in hopes of sharing her love of exploring the outdoors.

Read Next

Sea Monster or Whale?