Forest stand near Hebo District where wildlife technicians searched for potential marbled murrelet nesting trees.

This Chunky Seabird: the Tale of the Marbled Murrelet

 

A large number of flora and fauna call the Siuslaw National Forest home, and for many obvious reasons. The Siuslaw’s location allows for diverse ecosystems to exist and thus provides habitats for all sorts of species. Among them are common ones like the black bear, elk, blacktail deer, pacific salmon, steelhead, and many others. However, not all species are lucky enough to be grouped in the “common” category and unfortunately are listed on state and or federal endangered species lists. One adorable seabird that on these lists is the Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus).

Image credit: Lois Miller. I’ve only heard of one person in the office who might have seen one murrelet, but these mysterious little seabirds and their nests are hard to find.

This week I learned more about this “chunky Pacific seabird” and saw firsthand the work that the staff at the Hebo District are doing to restore their habitat, which has been greatly impacted by habitat fragmentation and now climate change. In 1992, the Marbled Murrelet was listed under the Endangered Species Act by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and was most recently added to the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List in Oregon, Washington, and California. This seabird has a unique nesting and breeding behavior that adds an additional conservation challenge. They spend most of their time in the ocean where they feed and breed, but when it’s time to lay their one egg they fly up to 50 miles inland to nest in old growth forests along the coast. Yes, they lay one egg each year, and how they go about it is even more fascinating. They find the oldest trees (> 200 years old) and look for the perfect moss-covered branch (usually a nice, straight one so that their egg does not roll out and crash land more than a few feet down onto the forest floor) that is nice and cozy to lay their egg on.

 

The wildlife technician at Hebo checks a map of the forest stand to locate potential wildlife and murrelet trees.

The wildlife technician and I headed out into a secondary forest stand to locate trees that could be designated as either wildlife or Marbled Murrelet habitat trees. If enough of these are found, the stand would be exempted from any forest product extraction or thinning operations. I put on my hiking boots and rain gear and joined the technician on the quest for these murrelet life-saving trees. The hike was a little cold and wet, but enjoyable! It turns out that when you’re looking for these trees the best trails to stay on are those made by deer and elk, and maybe it’s best not to follow the black bear trails.

 

Following those deer trails can get you into trouble. “Where to go now?”

Finding these trees in foggy and rainy conditions becomes a little more complicated because your vision gets limited to a shorter field of view as you look up at the tree canopy, not to mention the rain that keeps hitting you right in the eyes. Nevertheless, the technician was able to locate far more than expected. Other than looking for nice moss-covered branches, the height of the tree as well as how exposed the branches are to predators and weather elements also matters. All in all, this adventure in the field was very important to me not only because I got to explore more of the Siuslaw but also because of the connections I am now able to make with the readings and research I do. Connections that I can later return to and share with the public.

Araceli Morales
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