Chordates •

Common murre

(Uria aalge)



The common murre or common guillemot (Uria aalge) is a large auk. It has a circumpolar distribution, occurring in low-Arctic and boreal waters in the North Atlantic and North Pacific. It spends most of its time at sea, only coming to land to breed on rocky cliff shores or islands. Common murres have fast direct flight but are not very agile. They are more maneuverable underwater, typically diving to depths of 30–60 m (100–195 ft). Depths of up to 180 m (590 ft) have been recorded. Common murres breed in colonies at high densities. Nesting pairs may be in bodily contact with their neighbours. They make no nest; their single egg is incubated on a bare rock ledge on a cliff face. Eggs hatch after ~30 days incubation. The chick is born downy and can regulate its body temperature after 10 days. Some 20 days after hatching the chick leaves its nesting ledge and heads for the sea, unable to fly, but gliding for some distance with fluttering wings, accompanied by its male parent. Male guillemots spend more time diving, and dive more deeply than females during this time. Chicks are capable of diving as soon as they hit the water. The female stays at the nest site for some 14 days after the chick has left. Both male and female common murres moult after breeding and become flightless for 1–2 months. In some populations they occasionally return to the nest site throughout the winter. Adult birds reduce the time that they spend flying during the winter and are able to forage nocturnally. The common murre is 38–46 cm (15–18 in) in length with a 61–73 cm (24–29 in) wingspan. Male and female are indistinguishable in the field and weight ranges between 945 g (2 lb 1+1⁄2 oz) in the south of their range to 1,044 g (2 lb 5 oz) in the north. A weight range of 775–1,250 g (1 lb 11+1⁄2 oz – 2 lb 12 oz) has been reported. In breeding plumage, the nominate subspecies (U. a. aalge) is black on the head, back and wings, and has white underparts. It has thin dark pointed bill and a small rounded dark tail. After the pre-basic moult, the face is white with a dark spur behind the eye. Birds of the subspecies U. a. albionis are dark brown rather than black, most obviously so in colonies in southern Britain. Legs are grey and the bill is dark grey. Occasionally, adults are seen with yellow/grey legs. In May 2008, an aberrant adult was photographed with a bright yellow bill.

Taxonomic tree:

Kingdom: Animalia
Class: Aves
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