Species Profile

Ancient Murrelet

Scientific Name: Synthliboramphus antiquus
Taxonomy Group: Birds
Range: British Columbia, Pacific Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2014
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern


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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Ancient Murrelet

Ancient Murrelet Photo 1

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Description

The Ancient Murrelet, Synthliboramphus antiquus, is a seabird in the Alcidae, or auk family. It is most closely related to the Japanese Murrelet, S. wumizusume, but also to two other birds in North America: Xantus’s Murrelet, S. hypoleucus and Craveri’s Murrelet, S. craveri. Ancient Murrelets are about 25 cm long and are grey-bodied with a white throat and cheek, black chin and crown, and a yellow-tipped bill. In breeding plumage they have a distinctive line of white feathers extending back from the eye and fine black-and-white lines on the sides of the nape. (Updated 2017/06/02)

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Distribution and Population

The Ancient Murrelet is a small seabird of the North Pacific. In Canada, it breeds only on the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia. Several colonies of Ancient Murrelets in the Queen Charlotte Islands have disappeared and others are declining. The species is a winter resident and transient along the entire coast of British Columbia. (Updated 2017/06/02)

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Habitat

Ancient Murrelets breed on islands in areas that are at least 300 to 400 m from shore. They prefer to nest in forested areas, but will use treeless islands if forested ones are not available. They dig their burrows wherever there is sufficient soil depth, generally near trees or other objects for protection. (Updated 2017/06/02)

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Biology

Ancient Murrelets excavate nesting burrows under the base of trees, under stumps or fallen logs, in rock crevices, or under the roots of grass tussocks. They line the nest with dry grass and leaves. Clutches contain 2 eggs. They produce only one clutch per year. Departure from the nest occurs 2 to 3 days after hatching. Ancient Murrelets probably begin breeding at 3 or 4 years of age. The breeding season in the Queen Charlotte Islands extends from April to June. The birds winter to the south of the Queen Charlotte Islands: some in the inshore waters off Vancouver Island, from October to February; others farther south. They feed on planktonic crustaceans and fish. (Updated 2017/06/02)

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Threats

The main limiting factor, for Ancient Murrelets, has been the introduction of exotic predators. In British Columbia, these predators are rats and raccoons; several colonies of Ancient Murrelets have disappeared or been drastically reduced because of the presence of these exotic predators. Disruptions by tourists, such as lights, can limit the reproduction of Ancient Murrelets, since this bird is very sensitive to disturbances. The Ancient Murrelet is also very vulnerable to oil spills. (Updated 2017/06/02)

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Protection

Federal Protection

More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date The single biggest factor influencing the status of Ancient Murrelet populations on breeding colonies in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, is the presence or absence of introduced predators, especially raccoons but also rats. Removal of rats from Langara Island, historically the world’s largest colony of Ancient Murrelets, in the mid-1990s has enabled the murrelet breeding population there to increase. In contrast, control of raccoons has, to date, proven less effective, largely because very large source populations remain on the larger islands in the archipelago (Graham and Moresby Islands). Summary of Research/Monitoring Studies of Ancient Murrelet populations continue, led by the Laskeek Bay Conservation Society, with support from Environment Canada (EC). In addition, the EC monitoring program for the species is very active, with work continuing on several large colonies in Haida Gwaii. Finally, in partnership with Simon Fraser University, EC is conducting research on factors related to habitat (colony) selection, and means to speed population recovery following habitat restoration. Summary of Recovery Activities Researchers are using recordings of Ancient Murrelet vocalizations as indicators of quality nesting habitat which will help attract the birds to nest in new areas. Artificial nesting burrows containing eggshells also are being used to provide a visual cue of the quality of these areas for nesting. These measures will contribute to the colonization of the island and will help increase population numbers. URLs Parks Canada: Time for Naturehttp://www.pc.gc.ca/canada/pn-tfn/pdf/2006/2006-02-20_e.pdf University of Guelph: Aquatic Birdshttp://www.aquatic.uoguelph.ca/BirdS/speciesacc/Pacific/Pac_Birds/Alcidae/Ancmurr/S_antiquus.htm British Columbia Ministry of Environment: Ancient Murrelet Species Informationhttp://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/frpa/iwms/documents/Birds/b_ancientmurrelet.pdf

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

15 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus in Canada (2005)

    The Ancient Murrelet, Synthliboramphus antiquus, is a seabird in the Alcidae, or auk family. It is most closely related to the Japanese Murrelet, S. wumizusume, but also to two other birds in North America: Xantus's Murrelet, S. hypoleucus and Craveri's Murrelet, S. craveri. Ancient Murrelets are about 25 cm long and are grey-bodied with a white throat and cheek, black chin and crown, and a yellow-tipped bill. In breeding plumage they have a distinctive line of white feathers extending back from the eye and fine black-and-white lines on the sides of the nape.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment - Ancient Murrelet (2005)

    Designated Special Concern in April 1993. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2004. Last assessment based on an update status report.
  • COSEWIC status appraisal summary on the Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus in Canada (2015)

    Approximately half of the global breeding population of this burrow-nesting seabird occurs on Haida Gwaii, British Columbia. Recent survey information for the species is limited and the overall population trend is unknown. There is, however, evidence of declines at some breeding colonies on the west coast of Haida Gwaii, although populations may be increasing at some colonies on the east coast. The species is exposed to a number of threats including predation from introduced predators, habitat degradation, exposure to oil and oceanographic changes. The species may become Threatened if these threats are not appropriately managed.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Ancient Murrelet (2015)

    Approximately half of the global breeding population of this burrow-nesting seabird occurs on Haida Gwaii, British Columbia. Recent survey information for the species is limited and the overall population trend is unknown. There is, however, evidence of declines at some breeding colonies on the west coast of Haida Gwaii, although populations may be increasing at some colonies on the east coast. The species is exposed to a number of threats including predation from introduced predators, habitat degradation, exposure to oil and oceanographic changes. The species may become Threatened if these threats are not appropriately managed.
  • Response Statements - Ancient Murrelet (2005)

    This burrow-nesting seabird is impacted by mammalian predators that have been introduced to its breeding islands. Predators have been removed from some islands but populations have not increased as a result. About half of the world population nests in the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia; the Canadian population is thought to be declining.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada (2017)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (GINPR). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA (s.47)) for species requiring an action plan that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits to other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at GINPR.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site (2016)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site meets the requirements for an action plan set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA (s.47)) for species requiring an action plan that occur inside the boundary of the site. This action plan will be updated to more comprehensively include measures to conserve and recover the marine species at risk once the first integrated Land, Sea, People management plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve & Haida Heritage Site (hereafter called Gwaii Haanas) is complete. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in Gwaii Haanas.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada (2016)

    Backed by the Insular Mountain Range of Vancouver Island and facing the open Pacific Ocean, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada (Pacific Rim NPR) protects and presents the rich natural and cultural heritage of Canada's west coast. Pacific Rim NPR consists of three distinct units, the Long Beach Unit, Broken Group Islands Unit, and West Coast Trail Unit, each offering a range of unique visitor experiences. With significant areas (51,216 ha in total) of old growth, temperate rainforest, coastal dune systems, wetlands and foreshore, and marine habitats, the park demonstrates the interconnectedness between land, sea, and people. These natural wonders are interwoven with the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations culture (past and present), and that of European explorers and settlers.

Management Plans

  • Management Plan for the Ancient Murrelet (Synthliboramphus antiquus) in Canada (2015)

    The federal Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency are the competent ministers under SARA for the Ancient Murrelet and have prepared this management plan as per section 65 of SARA. To the extent possible it has been prepared in cooperation with the Province of British Columbia, and the Council of the Haida Nation.

Orders

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2005 (2005)

    2005 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2014-2015 (2015)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to "assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species". COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (October, 2014 to September, 2015) from November 23 to November 28, 2014 and from April 27 to May 1, 2015. During the current reporting period, COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 56 wildlife species. The wildlife species assessment results for the 2014-2015 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 0 Extirpated: 1 Endangered: 21 Threatened: 11 Special Concern: 21 Data Deficient: 1 Not at Risk: 1 Total: 56 Of the 56 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 40 that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 24 of those wildlife species resulted in a confirmation of the same risk status as the previous assessment.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species Under the Species At Risk Act: November 2005 (2005)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update March 31, 2017