Redwood branches. Photo by Christian Santos.

Marbled Murrelet

Discovering a Seabird in the Forest

The marbled murrelet (MER-let) is an iconic species that shows us why protecting and restoring redwood forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains is important. 

Marbled murrelets are seabirds that spend most of their lives at sea and in near-shore waters. Despite over a century of effort, scientists did not know where marbled murrelets nested until 1974, when a tree worker 150 feet up in a Douglas fir in Big Basin State Park encountered an odd-looking chick with webbed feet. 

During the spring and summer, they lay a single egg and raise their chick on a wide, mossy branch high in an old-growth tree. They nest up to 50 miles inland and travel between the forest and ocean for fish at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour.

The Santa Cruz Mountains are the southernmost portion of marbled murrelets' range, which means that this is already a marginal habitat for them. They are particularly vulnerable to habitat loss and climate change here, more so than in the rest of their range.

Marbled Murrelet by Ryan Shaw/Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Helping Rare Birds Survive and Thrive

Though marbled murrelets are listed as a federally threatened species, and few old-growth redwoods remain in the region, they still nest in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Midpen is protecting marbled murrelets by preserving what remains of their habitat and conducting annual acoustic and visual surveys in our preserves to understand where they are still breeding.

Midpen also uses acoustic recording units to passively record the soundscape in areas of suitable habitat for marbled murrelets. The recordings from these devices are analyzed by experts to pick out murrelet calls if they are present. Below is a spectrogram of a marbled murrelet call.

Spectrogram of a Marbled Murrelet Call. Midpen Natural Resources.

Collaboration is Key

Annual monitoring of marbled murrelet populations is undertaken by a collaborative network of federal, state, and local agencies, and academic researchers in the Santa Cruz Mountains working toward marbled murrelet recovery. The organizations within this network work to align survey dates and methods

We also collaborate with California State Parks in assessing large-scale forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains using innovative LiDAR data and other technologies to identify important murrelet habitat. In time, preserved forests can return to the old-growth conditions that marbled murrelets need. 

Keeping it Crumb Clean

Keep it Crumb Clean!

You are not likely not see or hear these secretive birds while visiting Midpen preserves, but your actions affect their survival. We know garbage and food waste left behind in the forest by people attracts ravens, crows and jays, which are the primary predators of marbled murrelet eggs and chicks.

Please do your part to protect marbled murrelets by packing out everything you pack in. Thank you for keeping your forest picnic crumb clean!

Natural Resources Protection and Restoration
Natural Resources
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Midpen is part of a collaborative network of federal, state, and local agencies, and academic researchers in the Santa Cruz Mountains working toward marbled murrelet recovery. California State Parks remains a close partner in this effort, in addition to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Pacific Seabird Group Marbled Murrelet Technical Committee and other park and open space agencies and land trusts.