The Bird Book/Auks, Murres and Puffins

The Bird Book by Chester A. Reed
Auks, Murres and Puffins: Family Alcidae


Puffins, Auks and Murres are all sea birds and are only found inland when blown there by some severe storm of winter. At this season numbers of them are apt to lose their bearings and may sometimes be found with their feet frozen in some of our inland ponds. Puffins are heavily built birds in appearance, but are very active both on the wing and in the water. Their wings are much larger comparatively than those of the other members of this family, so they are enabled to perform evolutions in the air, which are withheld from the others. They stand upright on the sole of the foot and are able to walk quite easily on land. Puffins have very heavy and deep but thin bills, which are entirely unlike those of any other bird and often give then the name of Parrot Auks. Puffins, Auks and Murres are otherwise recognized by the presence of but three toes which are webbed.



12. TUFTED PUFFIX. Lunda cirrhata.

Tufted Puffin Puffin

Range. Pacific Coast from Alaska southward to southern California, breeding locally throughout their range.

Tufted Puffins are the largest of the Puffins. In the breeding plumage, they are a sooty brownish or black color; the cheeks are white, and a long tuft of straw colored feathers extends back from each eye; the bill is bright red and greenish yellow. They breed commonly on the Farallones, where two or three broods are raised by a bird in a single season, but much more abundantly on the islands in the north. Their single eggs are laid in burrows in the ground or else in


natural crevices formed by the rocks. The eggs are pure white or pale buff and are without gloss. They very often have barely perceptible shell markings of dull purplish color. The eggs are laid about the middle of June. Size 2.80 x 1.90. Data. Farallone Is., May 27, 1887. Single egg laid in crevice of rocks. Collector, W. O. Emerson.

13. PUFFIN. Fratercula arctica arctica.

Range. North Atlantic Coast, breeding from the Bay of Fundy northward. Winters from breeding range along the New England Coast.

The common Puffin has the cheeks, chin and underparts white; upper parts and a band across the throat, blackish. Bill deep and thin, and colored with red, orange and yellow. They breed in large numbers on Bird Rock in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The nest is either among the natural crevices of the



rocks, or in burrows excavated in the ground by the birds. These burrows vary in length from two and a half to four or five feet. Except upon the positive knowledge of the absence of the bird, it is a hazardous thing to put the hand in one of these burrows for the bird can, and will nip the fingers, sometimes to the bone. They lay but a single egg, usually dull white and unmarked, but in some cases

White obscurely marked with red dish brown. Size 2.50 x 1.75. Data. So. Labrador, June 23, 1884. Single egg laid at end of burrow in the ground. Collector, J. H. Jameson.

13a. LARGE-BILLED PUFFIN. Fratercula arctica naumanni.

A more northerly subspecies of the last, inhabiting the Arctic region on the Atlantic side. The bird is somewhat larger but otherwise indistinguishable from the common species. The eggs are exactly the same or average a trifle larger. Size 2.55 x 1.80. Data. Iceland, July 6, 1900. Single egg in hole under .a rock. Collector, Chas. Jefferys.

14. HORNED PUFFIN. Fratercula corniculata.

Range. Pacific Coast from Alaska to British Columbia. The Horned Puffin differs from the common in that the blackish band across the throat extends upwards in a point to the bill. Their nesting habits are precisely the same as those of the preceding species. A single pure white egg is laid; the shell is slightly rougher than those of the others. Size 2.65 x 1.80. Data. Round Is., Alaska, June 24, 1884. Single egg laid at end of burrow in ground; no nest. Collector, G. L. Kennedy.

15. RHINOCEROS AUKLET. Cerorhinca monocerata.

Range. Pacific Coast, breeding from British Columbia northward and wintering southward to Lower California.

The Rhinoceros Auklet or Horned Auk has a much smaller bill than the Puffins; in the summer this is adorned at the base by a horn from which it takes its name. There are also slender plumes from above and below the eyes. Unlike the Puffins, these birds sit upon their whole tarsus.

They nest on islands of the North Pacific Coast from Vancouver northward. A single egg is laid in crevices among the rocks or in burrows in the ground. It is similar both in size and shape to that of the Puffins, but is often quite heavily blotched with brown. Size 2.70x1.80. Data. Unak Is., Alaska, June 30, 1900. Egg laid in a fissure of the rocks; no nest. Collector, F. Weston.



Horned Puffin

Rhinoceros Auklet

Cassin Auklet

16. CASSIN AUKLET. Ptychoramphus aleuticus* Range. Pacific Coast from Alaska to Lower California, breeding nearly throughout its range. A plain appearing bird about 9 in. in length, with blackish upperparts relieved only by a white spot over the eye; breast and throat gray and belly white. This Auklet is fairly abundant on the Farallones, breeding on the lower portions of the island. The late Mr. C. Barlow says that it is found in deserted rabbit burrows and in all


probability often excavates its own burrows. It also nests among the cliffs placing its eggs among the rocks in any crevice or tunnel which may offer a dark retreat during the day for they are nocturnal in their habits. The single egg which they lay is dull white in color, the inside of the shell being a pale green, which color can only be seen by holding the egg to the light. They are generally slightly nest stained. Size 1.80 x 1.30. Data. Coronado Islands, Cal., March 23, 1897. Single egg laid on the bare ground at end of a burrow three and one-half feet long. Collector, E. A. Shives.


Color white, sometimes heavily blotched, as above, and again unspotted


17. PAROQUET AUKLET. Phaleris psittacula.

Range. The Alaskan Coast, casually farther south in winter.

This bird is about the same size as the preceding, and the plumage is similar, except that it has no white spot over the eye, and the breast is white. It also has a slender plume extending from back of the eye. The bill is very peculiar, being quite deep and rounded and having an upward tendency. It is orange red in color. They


Crested Auklet


breed very commonly on the islands of Bering Strait. Their eggs are laid in the crevices of the cliff, often several feet in and by a crooked path so that it is impossible to reach them. The single chalky white egg is laid in May. Size 2.30 x 1.45. Data. Rocky Islet in the Aleutians, June 22, 1890, Single egg laid on bare rock in a deep Paroquet Auklet crevice. Collector, Capt. S. Wilson.

18. CRESTED AUKLET. Aethia cristatella.

Range. Alaska Coast, Similar in form and plumage to the latter, except that the whole under parts are gray and it has a crest of recurved feathers. The nesting season begins in May, the birds nesting upon the same islands and in the same kinds of sites as the last species. The single egg is chalky white. Size 2.10x1.50. Data. Unak Is., Alaska, July 1, 1900. Egg laid in a crevice among the rocks. Collector, F. Weston.

19- WHISKERED AUKLET. Aethia pygmaea.

Range. The Alaska Coast.

Much smaller than the preceding; but 7.5 in. in length. Breast gray, belly white; a small tuft of recurved feathers on the forehead and slender white plumes from base of bill over the eye and from under the eye, backwards. The bill in summer is a bright vermillion color. On some of the islands of the Aleutian chain they breed quite abundantly. The nests are placed back in the crevices of the rocks, where the single white eggs are laid. Size 2.00 x 1.25.




-v- V

20. LEAST AUKLET. Aethia pusilla.

Range. North Pacific on the islands and coast of Alaska. This is the smallest of the Auklets; length 6.5 in. This species has no crest, but has the slender white plumes extending back from the eye. The entire under parts are white sparsely spotted with dusky. This species is by far the most abundant of the water birds of the extreme Northwest, and thousands of them, accompanied by the two preceding species, nest on the rocky cliffs of the islands of Bering Sea. Their nesting habits are the same as those of the other Auklets, they placing their single white egg on the bare rocks, in crevices on the cliffs. Size 1.55 x 1.10. Data. Pribilof Is., Alaska, June 8, 1897. Single egg laid in crevice. Thousands breeding on the island.


21. ANCIENT MURRELET. Synthliboramphus antiquus.

Range. Pacific Coast, breeding from the bordiLeast Auklet er of the United States, northward, and wintering

Ancient Murrelet south to southern California.

Marbled Murrelet The Murrelets have no crests or plumes and the bills are more slender than the Auklets and are not ^-^ '-^ / J * liighly colored. The ancient Murrelet or Black-throated Murrelet, ^Bk '* . c - . . ... as it is also called, has a gray * * *V.* \ f - ^ . back, white under parts and a black head and throat, with a broad white stripe back of the eye and another formed by the white on the breast extending up on the side of the neck. They breed abundantly on the islands in Bering Sea, laying one or two eggs at the end of burrows in the banks or on the ground, and in some localities in crevices on the cliffs. The eggs are a buffy white color and are faintly marked with light brown, some of these being in the shape of spots and others lengthened. Siae 2.40 x 1.40. Data. Sanak Islands, July 1, 1894. Two eggs on the ground under a tuft of grass and in a slight excavation lined with fine grass.


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23. MARBLED MURRELET. Brachyramphus marmoratus.


Range. North Pacific Coast, breeding from Vancouver Island. South in winter to south- , . f , ern California. /L :

In the breeding plumage, this bird is brownish black above, barred with rusty and below is marbled with brownish gray and white. Its nesting habits and eggs are very similar to those of the Ancient Murrelet, they placing their single

eggs in holes in the ground or Buffi

crevices among the cliffs. Size

2.20 x 1.40. Data. Chichagof Is., Alaska, June IS, 1898. Single egg in crevice on face of cliff. Large colony breeding in company with Ancient Murrelets.

24. KITTLITZ MURRELET. Brachyramphus brevirostris.

Range. North Pacific Coast in the Aleutian Islands and north to Unalaska,

breeding on isolated islands throughout its range. This species is very similar to the Marbled Murrelet, the chief difference being in the bill which is shorted. They have been found IL breeding on the same islands |p with the preceding species. Their single white egg is laid in crevices in the cliffs. Size 2.40 x 1.30. Data. Sanak Is., Alaska, June 25, 1890. Nest in a hollow under a bunch of rank matted grass. Many ancient Burrelets breeding on the same Islands. Collector, Capt. Tilson.

25. XANTUS MURRELET. Brachyramphus hypoleucus.

Range. Resident along the coast of southern and Lower California.

This bird is blackish above and entirely white below, inculding the sides of the head below the eye. The whole of <#&?"

the under surface of the wing is also white. They breed on the coast islands from Santa Barbara southward. The single egg is laid at the end of a burrow or in crevices among the rocks. It is a pale buffy white in color and thickly, but finely dotted over the whole surface with purplish brown, and with some larger spots at the larger end. Sise 2.05 v 1.40. Data. Galapagos Islands, March 2, 1901. No nest. Single egg laid in a crevice in the rocks. Collector, Hollo H. Beck.

Pale Blue



Brachyramphus craveri.

Range. Both coasts of Lower California, breeding chiefly on the Gulf side. Craveri Murrelet is very similar to the last except that the under surfaces of the wings are dusky. Breeds on the islands near Cape St. Lucas, burrowing in the ground as do most of the others of this species. They lay a single egg, the ground color of which is buff; they are quite heavily blotched with brownish. Size 2.00 x 1.40.

27. BLACK GUILLEMOT. Cepphus grylle.

Range. Coasts and islands of the North Atlantic, breeding from Maine northward to southern Greenland. Guillemots are larger birds than the Murrelets (length 13 inches) and their plumage is entirely different. This species in summer

Bluish white

Xantus Murrelet

Mandt's Guillemot

is entirely black except the wing coverts which are white. The bases of the greater coverts, however, are black, this generally breaking the white mirror as it is called. The under surfaces of the wings are white. Legs red. These birds breed abundantly on the rocky islands and high cliffs along the coast. Soon after the first of June the eggs are laid in the crevices of the rocks and sometimes upon the bare ledges. Two or three eggs make the set. The ground color is a pale bluish or greenish white and the markings are various shades of brown and black. Size 2.40 x 1.60. Data. Grand Manan, June 15, 1896. Two eggs laid in a cavity back of large boulder. No nest. Collector, D. H. Eaton.

Black Guillemot




28. MANDT'S GUILLEMOT. Cepphus mandti.

Range. North Atlantic coast, more northerly than the preceding, breeding from Labrador to northern Greenland.

The bird differs from the Black Guillemot only in having the bases of the coverts white also. The nesting habits and eggs are identical. They nest in colonies of thousands and place the' eggs upon the bare rock with no attempt at nest building. Generally the eggs are in the crevices so as to be difficult to get at. Size 2.30 x 1.55. Data. Depot Island, Hudson Bay, June 6, 1894. Two eggs laid on bare rocky ground. Collector John Comer.

29. PIGEON GUILLEMOT. Cepphus columba.

Range. The Pacific Coast of North America, breeding from southern California northward. This bird is very similar to the Black Guillemot except that the under surfaces of the wings are dark. They breed abundantly on some of the islands of Bering Sea and a few of them nest on the Farallones. They lay their two eggs on the bare rock in dark crevices. The color is grayish or pale greenish blue and the markings are brown and

black with paler shell markings of ,.**. .

lilac. Size, 2.40 x 1.60. Data. S. Farallone Islands, Cal. Two eggs laid on gravel at the end of a burrow, about two feet from the entrance and 285 feet above the sea level. Collector, Claude Fyfe.

SO. MURRE. Uria troile troille.

Range. North Atlantic coasts and islands, breeding from Bird Rock northward. Murres are similar in form to the Guillemots, but are larger, being about 16 inches in length. Entire head and neck sooty brown; rest of upper parts grayish black except the tips of the secondaries which are white.

Pale bluish gray

Under parts white. These birds nest by thousands on Bird Rock and on the cliffs of Labrador. They build no nests but simply lay their single egg on the narrow ledges of cliffs, where the only guarantee against its rolling off is its peculiar shape which causes it, when moved, to revolve about its smaller end instead of rolling off the ledge. The eggs are laid as closely as possible on the ledges where the incubating birds sit upright, in long rows like an army on guard. As long as each bird succeeds in finding an egg to cover, on its return home, it is doubtful if they either know or care whether it is their own or not. The ground color of the eggs vary from white to a deep greenish blue and the markings of blackish brown vary in endless patterns, some eggs being almost wholly unspotted. Size 3.40 x 2. Data. South Labrador, June 19, 1884. Single egg laid on the bare cliff. Large colony breeding. Collector, M. A. Granar.



30a. CALIFORNIA MURRE. Uria troille californica.

Range. -Pacific Coast, breeding from the Farallones north to Alaska.

This Pacific form of the common Murre is the most abundant breeding bird on the Farallones. Their eggs are used in enormous numbers for commercial purposes and these islands being located, as they are, within easy distance from San Francisco, thousands of dozens of the eggs are sold yearly, chiefly to bakeries. Although continually robbed, their numbers have not as yet diminished to any great extent. They lay but a single egg on the bare ledge. Individual eggs are indistinguishable from the last species but in a large series the ground color averages brighter. They show the same great difference in color and markings. The first set is laid in May, but owing to their being so often molested, fresh eggs can be found during August. Data. Farallones, July 4, 1895. Single egg laid on bare cliff. Collector, Thos. E. Slevin.

SI. BRUNNICH MURRE. Uria lomvia lomvia.

Range. North Atlantic Coast, breeding range the same as the common Murre.

Varies from white to greenish blue

This species differs from the common Murre in having a shorter and thicker bill, the base of the cutting edge of which is less feathered. They breed on the same islands in company with the common Murre and their eggs are indistinguishable. Data. Coast of South Labrador. Single egg laid on ledge of cliff. About three hundred birds in the colony.


3 la. PALLAS MURRE. Uria lomvia arra.

Range. The Pacific coasts and islands.

This is the Pacific form of Brunnich Murre. Its breeding range is more northerly than that of the California variety. Countless thousands of them breed on the islands off the coast of Alaska, their breeding habits and eggs being the same as the more southern form.

32. RAZOR-BILLED AUK. Alca torda.

Range. North Atlantic coast, breeding from Bird Rock northward and wintering south to the Middle States on the coast.

Grayish white

The Razor-billed Auk is in form similar to the Murres, but the bill is very different, being deep and thin, and with the upper mandible rounded at the tip. Entire upper parts black shading to brownish on the throat. Under parts and tips of secondaries, white; line from eye to bill and another across the middle of the bill, white. They nest in large numbers on Bird Rock in company with the Murres and in still greater numbers off the coast of Labrador. Their eggs are not placed in as exposed positions as the Murres, being generally behind boulders or in crevices. This is necessary because, not being ( ^ of the pear-shaped form of the Murres, they would be very apt to be dislodged if commonly placed on the narrow ledges. The eggs vary endlessly in marking but do not show the differences in ground color that the Murres do. The color is white, grayish or buffy. But one egg is generally laid, although two are sometimes found. Size 3.00x2.00. Data. Bay of Fundy. June 17, 1891. Single egg laid on bare rock in a crevice under loose rocks. Collector, A. C. Bent.





Great Auk Dovekie


GREAT AUK. Plautus impennis.

Range. Formerly the whole of the North Atlantic coasts. Now extinct.

These great auks formerly dwelt in large numbers on the islands of the North Atlantic, butowing to their lack of the powers of flight and the destructiveness of mankind, the living bird has disappeared from the face of the earth. Although they were about thirty inches in length, their wings were even smaller than those of the Razor-billed Auk, a bird only eighteen inches in length. Although breeding off the coast of Newfoundland, they appeared winters as far south as Virginia, performing their migration by swimming alone. The last bird appears to have been taken in 1844, and Funk Island, off the coast of Newfoundland, marks the place of their disappearance from our shores. There are about seventy known specimens of the bird preserved, and about the same number of eggs. The immediate cause of the extinction of these birds was their destruction for food by fishermen and immigrants, and later for the use of their feathers commercially. The single egg that they laid was about 5.00 x 3 inches, the ground color was buffy white, and the shpots brownish and blackish. The markings varied in endless pattern as do those of the smaller Auk. There are but two real eggs (plaster casts in imitation of the Auks eggs are to be found in many collections) in collections in this country, one in the Academy of Natural Science, Philadelphia, and the other in the National Museum, at Washington. Through the kindness of Mr. Witmer Stone, of the Academy of Natural Science, we are enabled to sohw a full-sized reproduction from a photograph of the egg in their collection.




Photographed from the specimen in the Academy of Natural Science, Philadelphia

not more than ten or twelve of these eggs are in this country;

the one figured is one of the best marked specimens.



A Ji J

J. J. A

34*. DOVEKIE. Alle alle.

Range. Coasts and islands of the North Atlantic and East Arctic oceans, breeding in the Arctic regions and wintering as far south as the Middle States. The little Dovekie or Sea Dove is the smallest member of the family, being only 8 inches in length, and is the only member of the sub-family allinae. The form is very robust and the bill is short and stout. In summer the plumage is black above; the throat and upper breast


Pale greenish blue

are sooty brown, and the under parts are white, as are also the tips of the secondaries and edges of the scapulars. They nest in large numbers on the Rocky cliffs of islands in the East Arctic. Their single pale greenish blue egg is placed in a crevice of the rocks. Size 1.80 x 1.25. Data. Greenland, June 8, 1893. Single egg laid in a crevice of a sea cliff.

MURRE White, buff, or deep greenish blue 34