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New England Seabirds



Common and Thick-Billed Murre

Common Murre Uria aalge
Thick-billed Murre Uria lomvia



Both species of Murres nest on ledges.  Photographed in Alaska by Emmalee Tarry

American English Name Scientific Name European English Name
Common Murre Uria aalge Common Guillemot
Thick- Billed Murre Uria lonvia Brunnich's Guillemot
These two species of Alcids are very similar in appearance and behavior. Furthermore there can be difficulty distinguishing either species from Razorbills in winter.

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 feet.

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. Glen Tepke Thick-billed Murre
Where To See
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 too.

Common Murre
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.

Breeding plumage Common Murre (left) and Razorbill photographed by Emmalee Tarry at Machias Seal Island in Maine.
Common Murre and Razorbill
Common Murre by Glen Tepke This pair photographed by Glen Tepke consist of an adult still in breeding plumage and a non-breeding plumage adult.
Non-breeding Common Murre
photographed by Leonard Medlock at Rye Harbor, NH.
Bridled Common Murre
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.

Thick-billed Murre
Leonard Medlock photographed this Thick-billed Murre on Jeffreys Ledge.
Thick-billed Murre Glen Tepke 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 photographer.
Thick-billed Murre by Glen Tepke This photograph also by Glen Tepke emphasizes the thickness of the Thick-billed Murre's bill.

Beware The Winter Razorbill
Both Murres 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 Gail O'Brien
Seabirds | Alcids | Puffin | Razorbill | Murres | Dovekie | Black Guillemot