Mysterious, rare and endangered: these are just some of the words that can be used to describe the marbled murrelet, a small, north Pacific seabird which spends the majority of its life on the ocean. British Columbia is the only place in Canada where you may be lucky enough to see one of them. Unfortunately, as logging spreads into more remote coastal valleys, it’s become tougher to spot them as their breeding ranges disappear.
Sadly, the marbled murrelet falls under ‘threatened’ status, a designation given by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). At last count, there are believed to be about 50,000 of them left in this province. What’s worse, there is no endangered species legislation in B.C., leaving them with a lack of support and protection.
“Though marbled murrelets spend most of their lives on water, they still need to come to land to breed where they only lay one egg a year.” says Wild ARC assistant manager Meg Hatch. These birds require mature or old growth trees with large moss-covered branches on which to nest. Marbled murrelets can’t perch like other birds; instead they require these large, moss-covered branches to use as a landing strip as they fly in at incredibly high speeds. “Between laying an egg once a year, and watching their nesting options disappear, this is currently a population with the odds stacked against them.”
The staff at the BC SPCA’s Wild ARC recently had the chance to rehabilitate and release one young marbled murrelet found in Duncan. “This adorable bird was found grounded on a driveway with wounds to her shoulder and mid-back likely from a predator attack.” Hatch says that the rehabilitation of seabirds like this marbled murrelet is quite complicated and wounds that impede feather growth make a successful release even more challenging. “Intact and clean feathers are essential to keep seabirds waterproof. Without this protective feather barrier, this marbled murrelet is unprotected from the cold water and could quickly die from exposure. The staff at Wild ARC must constantly be assessing the condition of the bird, monitoring water temperature and providing her food by tube feeding to ensure the oil from the fish doesn’t soil her feathers.”
After a month in care, this beautiful marbled murrelet was fully healed and ready to return to the wild. “With the decrease in marbled murrelet numbers, returning even one individual to the wild can make a big difference,” says Hatch. “However, without more protection for this species and their habitat, the population of marbled murrelets and other vulnerable species could be in grave danger. It’s time to take action to ensure there is legislation to protect endangered animals and their habitat in our province.”
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