Common MurreUria aalge (Pontoppidan)
Status Common in winter. Formerly bred. Bryant (1857) found them nesting off Yarmouth on Gannet Rock and Green Island. Bayley (1925) mentioned about a dozen pairs of murres nesting on Bird Island, Victoria County, but did not identify the species; he was told by a local resident that murres had been very common there in the past. However, Percy Taverner visited the islands in 1929 and recorded only two Common Murres, and Thomas F.T. Morland found only one there on 24 July 1965. No breeding murres were discovered in Nova Scotia in 1971 during the course of Anthony R. Lock's survey for the Canadian Wildlife Service. Despite its name, this species is less commonly seen than the Thick-billed Murre.
Most reports are from between December and April, with stragglers into May. A late bird at Sable Island on 20-25 June 1974 was apparently injured. Oiling has become a serious problem for these birds: the skeletal remains of a Common Murre that washed up near Margaretsville, Annapolis County, on 6 March 1946 showed evidence of oil contamination; on 28 February 1967 at Morden, Annapolis County, and again on 5 and 8 March 1967 at Harbourville, Kings County, a number of these birds were found dead or dying, all victims of oil; and Wickerson Lent found 31 oil-contaminated individuals on inshore waters near Brier Island during the first week of February 1960. However, the Thick-billed Murre was the principal victim of the oil spilled from the tankers Arrow and Kurdistan off Cape Breton Island in February 1970 and March 1979, respectively. This suggests that most Common Murres winter off southern Nova Scotia or further south.
Description Length: 40-43 cm. Adults in summer: Head and neck dark seal-brown; back and wings black; sometimes a narrow white ring around the eye with a line extending back; underparts entirely white. Adults in winter: Front and sides of neck are white and narrow dark line extends back from the eye.
Range In the Atlantic, breeds along steep, rocky coasts from Portugal to Iceland and Spitsbergen, and from New Brunswick to southwestern Greenland. A separate population breeds in the North Pacific. The eastern North American population is about 570,000 pairs, of which 550,000 breed in Newfoundland and Labrador, and almost all the rest breed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There is a small colony of fewer than 100 pairs on Yellow Murre Rock, off southwestern New Brunswick. Western Atlantic birds winter at sea from Newfoundland southwards, especially off New England.
Remarks Murres seen on the water may be distinguished from ducks by their short, thick necks and sharp-pointed black bills. Their name is derived from their call, a deep, bass murre. They are called "turr" in Newfoundland and "scribe" along some sections of the Nova Scotian coast. The two murre species are difficult to distinguish, except at close range. Its longer, more slender bill and, in winter, the dark line extending from its eye across a white cheek distinguish the Common Murre.
In game-law parlance, murres are "migratory non-game birds" protected throughout the year in both Canada and the United States except in Newfoundland, where a winter "turr" hunt is permitted, the Thick-billed Murre being the species principally affected.
Johnson (1940) mentions three records of banded Common Murres recovered in Nova Scotia but only gives the details of one banded in the Cape Whittle region on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence on 11 August 1926 and recovered in Lunenburg County on 14 December 1926.
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