New England Seabirds
These two species of Alcids are very similar in appearance
and behavior. Furthermore there can be difficulty distinguishing either species
from Razorbills in winter.
|American English Name
||European English Name
|| Common Guillemot
|Thick- Billed Murre
Both breed in colonies and lay single eggs
on bare ledges as seen in the picture above. If the egg is lost, the female may
lay a second egg. The only nest consists of a few stones. Sibley says the
Thick-billed nests on narrower ledges and can be seen standing single file.
They breed on both coasts of North America and in Europe. The Thick-billed
Murre breeds further north than the Common although there is overlap. Where
there is overlap, the species are segregated on different ledge even if they
are are close together.
||Few of Murre eggs roll off the ledge despite being laid on the
narrow ledge without the protection of a nest. The Murre's egg is pear shaped
with a pointed end. The shape is said to makes the egg roll in a circle rather
than roll off of cliff. Other researchers believe the egg is stuck to the ledge
with guano. Emmalee Tarry found this empty shell in the grass at the top of the
cliff at Cape St. Mary apparently stolen and eaten by Ravens. Notice the light
blue color with the irregular brown spots.
Both feed by sitting
on the surface of the water and head-dipping prior to diving in pursuit of fish
which form the main part of their diet. Unless they are feeding young, the prey
is usually swallowed before surfacing. They are reported to dive up to 180
Where To See
|Some times Murres feed in groups and on occasion have been
observed gliding over the surface of water before crash diving into the water.
This Thick-billed Murre was photographed by Glen Tepke feeding in the more
usual way of diving from the surface.
Winter plumage birds can often been
seen on sea watches at Andrews Point or from winter pelagic trips. Breeding
Common Murres can be seen on Machias Seal Island and both species at Cape St.
Mary in Newfoundland although the Common Murre predominates here
|Both Murres are black and white and hard to distinguish from
a Razorbill at a distance. Unlike the Razorbill, the Common Murre has a thin
ponted bill with no white on the bill.
plumage Common Murre (left) and Razorbill photographed by Emmalee Tarry at Machias Seal Island in Maine.
||This pair photographed by Glen Tepke consist of an adult
still in breeding plumage and a non-breeding plumage adult.
Bridled Common Murre
|Non-breeding Common Murre
photographed by Leonard Medlock at Rye Harbor, NH.
The bridled form of the Common
Murre occurs in 10-25% of the individuals on the Atlantic side. It is absent in
the Pacific population. Sibley also shows a dark morph which is rarely seen in
the Pacific population.
||Leonard Medlock photographed this
Thick-billed Murre on Jeffreys Ledge.
||The Thick-billed Murre can be distinguished in the field by
the pale narrow gape line as seen in this photograph by Glen Tepke and used
with his permission. Photo remains the property of the photographer.
|The white gape line shows up better in this photo by Glen
Tepke of Thick-billed Murre.Photo remains the property of the
||This photograph also by Glen Tepke emphasizes the thickness
of the Thick-billed Murre's bill.
Beware The Winter Razorbill
have to be distinguished from the Razorbill show below in winter plumage.
Notice the winter Razorbill has no white on the bill, but
does have white behind the eye. Also notice the shape of the bill. Photo by