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Ancient Murrelet

Synthliboramphus antiquus

Length: 10 inches Wingspan: 16 inches Seasonality: Extremely Rare Visitor
ID Keys: Gray back, white underparts, black head, short thick pale bill

Ancient Murrelet - Synthliboramphus antiquusThe Ancient Murrelet is the only one of the Auks to ever have been identified in South Dakota.  Normally found along the southern coastline of Alaska and of western Canada, small numbers of these birds may be blown inland by early winter storms each year, normally in October or November.  They are named for the gray coloring on the back which is said to resemble an old woman's shawl.  

Habitat: During summer breeding season, they nest in burrows on islands possessing a good vegetation cover.  At all other seasons, they are found on cool waters normally around the edge of the continental shelf, although they do sometimes feed close to shore.

Diet: Small fish and crustaceans (primarily euphausiid shrimp) make up the majority of the diet.

Behavior: Forages by diving and swimming underwater for prey.  Males will sing from the tops of trees during the breeding season, an unusual sight for a seabird such as this.

Interactive eBird Map: Click to access an interactive eBird map of Ancient Murrelet sightings

Song: Gives soft whistles and chirps during the breeding season. 

Migration: Can be found all year long along the Aleutians and the southern coast of Alaska, southward to the coast of British Columbia.  In the winter, some move as far south as the California coast.

Similar Species: Marbled Murrelet, Xantus's Murrelet

Conservation Status: Populations have been in decline for many years.  Foxes, raccoons, and rats that have been purposely or accidentally introduced on breeding islands have completely wiped out breeding populations in some locations.

Further Information: 1) Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Ancient Murrelet

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Ancient Murrelet"

3) -- Ancient Murrelet

Photo Information: Photo courtesy of Dan Tallman.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Ancient Murrelt - Range map
South Dakota Status: Only one record in the state, an emaciated bird found in 1993 (see reference link below for SDOU reference).. Strong winter storms very rarely have scattered tiny numbers of Ancient Murrelet to the interior of the continent, including other states around South Dakota.