THICK-BILLED MURRE (Uria lomvia) – (See images below)
DESCRIPTION: The Thick-billed Murre is a northern pelagic bird with black plumage on the top parts. Under parts and breast are white. Tail is short and rounded. Bill is long, pointed, thick and black, with a fine white line near the base. Eyes are black. Legs and webbed feet are black. Sexes are similar. Bird length is around 45 cm (18 inches). There are four subspecies.
NAME: ‘Murre’ might have an onomatopoeic origin, as it resembles the bird’s call. Latin genus name ‘Uria’ refers to ‘a dark water bird’. Latin species name ‘lomvia’ refers to some kind of small diving bird. This bird is also called Brunnich’s Guillemot.
HABITAT: Rocky cliffs in summer, open seas outside breeding season.
DIET: Dives from water surface for fish, squid, crustaceans.
NESTING: Breeds in large dense colonies on rocky cliffs facing the water. One single light blue-beige egg is laid on bare rock, and incubated by both parents. Chick fed by both parents.
DISTRIBUTION: Breeds in the Arctic around the globe. Winters in open ice-free seas in North Atlantic, Hudson’s Bay and North Pacific. There are several cases of vagrants ending up as far south as California or Florida (see note below on bird vagrancy).
Distribution Map:
ON PEI: Does not breed on Prince Edward Island, sightings rare or uncommon in the fall.
CONSERVATION: Population widespread and numbering around 15 million, not at risk.
NOTES: This murre is a North Atlantic seabird of the alcidae family. It can easily swim underwater as if flying, but is clumsy when walking on land. It can dive at depths reaching 150 meters (490 feet). The bird looks like a penguin but is not related to it.
Vagrancy: In biology this means an animal going way outside its normal range. For birds, this can happen when there are storms and they get blown off course. On other times, the bird simply wanders in a different direction than usual. Here’s an article about vagrancy in birds.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Common Murre, Razorbill
REFERENCES: (Norwegian Polar Institute) (Hinterland Who’s Who) (University of Michigan)
Thick-billed Murre (Alaska Fish and Wildlife Service, .pdf file) (American Bird Conservancy) (Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska) (New Hampshire PBS)

Thick-billed Murres – Alaska Maritime NWR – Sept. 2010 – photo by Art Sowls, USFWS
Thick-billed murres, Art Sowls, USFWS
Thick-billed Murres with egg – photo by Verena Gill – USGS
Thick-billed murres, Verena Gill, USGS
Thick-billed Murre head close up – Svalbard -June 2005 – photo by Michael Haferkamp
Thick-billed murre head, Michael Haferkamp
Thick-billed Murre head close up – Svalbard -June 2005 – photo by Michael Haferkamp
Thick-billed murre colony, Michael Haferkamp