Thick-billed Murre, photo by Alex Lamoreaux

Thick-billed Murres on the move!

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Feb 8, 2021 | by Alex Lamoreaux

Thick-billed Murre at Cape Neddick, Maine. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux.

On the heals of a rush of Dovekie sightings along the New England and mid-Atlantic coastline, Thick-billed Murres are now making a nice showing near-shore from Maine to New Jersey, and even one sighting along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. These deep-diving auks, which visually blur the middle ground between a Razorbill and Common Murre, typically stay much further north than the other Atlantic alcids but every few years during the dead of winter they will push south. This current ‘irruption’ may have been hinted at back in November 2020 when a very notable count of murres was recorded during a pelagic trip offshore Cape May, New Jersey (pers comm Tom Reed) and one of the furthest south Thick-billed Murre sightings ever was documented in Brevard County, Florida! This winter’s surge in sightings for both Dovekie and Thick-billed Murre aligns with the findings presented by Richard Veit and Lisa Manne in their 2015 article that suggested counts of these two high-Arctic alcids peaked during negative phases of the North Atlantic Oscillation, which this year is.

How can birders contribute?… If you live near the Atlantic Coast, you could spend a day searching inlets and other nice seashore vantage points to try and spot one of these uncommon seabirds and document your sightings on eBird. Despite their black-and-white color, they can be difficult to pick out among the rolling waves and so patience can pay off. Sometimes murres will mix loosely with seaducks. Thick-billed Murres can readily be aged in the field, and noting this would add a little extra to your sightings! Adults have clean white throats and immatures have gray-washed throats.

Immature Thick-billed Murre at Cape Neddick, Maine. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux.

Adult (bottom) and immature Thick-billed Murres at Cape Neddick, Maine. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux.

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