Quirks & Quarks

Marathon Migration of the Ancient Murrelet

The Ancient Murrelet migrates from Haida Gwaii across the Pacific in a lengthy migration, and scientists aren't really sure why it does it.

A seabird that makes a mysterious migration of more than 16,000km.

Ancient Murrelet From The Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds (Richard Crossley, cc-by-sa-3.0)
Many birds undertake long migrations from their summer breeding grounds to their wintering grounds, where the weather is warmer and food is in abundance. These sometimes impressive feats of navigation usually involve a north-south travel plan.

But Dr. Anthony Gaston, a retired Research Scientist with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Ottawa, recently studied the migration of a sea bird that chooses an east-west migration instead. The Ancient Murrelet breeds on British Columbia's Haida Gwai islands in the summer, then makes its way across the Pacific Ocean to waters off China and Japan by the early autumn. In February, they make their way back to Haida Gwai, completing a nearly 16,000 kilometre round-trip.

Because the waters of its breeding ground and the waters of its wintering ground are similar, scientists are mystified as to the exact purpose of the murrelet migration. 

Related Links

Paper in The International Journal of Avian Science
- New Scientist story