X is for Xantu’s Murrelet
This image from Wiki shows the size of a Xantu’s murrelet (recently renamed Scripp’s murrelet) when it leaves the nest and plunges into the ocean at fewer than 48 hours old, having not been fed, and without being able to fly. It is about 5 inches long:
Uniquely, from this moment forward this little chick spends it’s entire time at sea, with its parents in attendance for a few months, until it is an adult and returns to the cliffs where it hatched to breed itself.
Luckily it is hatched fully fluffy-feathered and half the size of the parents – the huge eggs the mother murrelet lays (in the cliff rock crevices on islands in the Channel Islands of California, and on Santa Barbara Island, and also several islands off Baja California) have one of the largest egg to bird ratios in the world.
I haven’t been able to find any information as to how the parents keep the chicks together on the open sea, but when the parent birds leave the nest, the babies follow them. The parents fly out to the sea, leaving the chicks to fall and scramble down the cliffs into the water. At this point the parents call to them and the babies swim out to join them – murrelets have a piercing whistle, probably to be heard through the surf, and I surmise that this call would help reunite them if they become separated.
They feed by diving underwater to get larval fish and crustaceans, and rely heavily on shoals of anchovy. They are usually seen feeding in pairs, and if one bird is on the nest then unrelated birds will team up.
While they are briefly in the nest, and as eggs, the chicks are vulnerable to feral cats, house mice, deer mice, and black rats.
Out at sea they become prey to marine animals, oil spills, getting entangled in fishing nets, and pollution.
Xantu’s or Scripp’s murrelet is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Here is a great photo of a pair in the water, by Tony Morris:
Here is my poem:
jump into the surf
just two days after
their egg-hatched birth,
follow their parents’
loud cries to be free,
riding the swell
on the rising, green sea.
How do their parents
guide them and guard,
when their world becomes
just water and dark?
What do they do
in wind rush and storm,
tossed and plunged
when waves grow strong?
But the ocean is where
they make their home,
wind in feather, air in bone,
part ocean, part foam.
© Liz Brownlee
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Prose and Poem © Liz Brownlee, all rights reserved not to be used in any manner whatsoever without the permission of the author.