Long-billed Murrelet (Brachyramphus perdix)



Until recently, was grouped with Marbled Murrelet as a single species but is now given full-species status based on phylogenetic, evolutionary and biological criteria (Patten 1997, see 41st Supplement of the AOU Check-List of North American Birds). Interestingly, when first recognized in the middle of the 19th Century, Marbled and Long-billed Murrelets were treated as separate species. Molecular analysis supports the separation with Long-billed, Marbled and Kittlitz's Murrelets forming sister species (Friesen et al., 1996a; 1996b).

At times has been called as been called Temminck's Guillemot, Partridge Murrelet (reflecting the scientific name perdix, 'partridge') and Asiatic Marbled Murrelet.


Mlodinow (1997) provides an excellent review of how to separate basic-plumaged Long-billed and Marbled Murrelets including wise words of caution about birds in transitional plumages. The main criteria are: absence of a white neck collar, presence of a faint whitish oval on each side of the neck, less black below the eye and less black extending onto the shoulders. Marbled Murrelet can resemble a basic-plumaged Common Murre while Long-billed Murrelet is more like a basic-plumaged Pacific Loon or Xantus Murrelet. Long-billed Murrelet also differs structurally, being heavier and noticeably longer billed. In alternate (breeding) plumage, Long-billed Murrelet has a distinctive pale throat and lacks the rufous tones of Marbled Murrelet.

Where and When

An asiatic species. Breeds in Russia on the Kamchatka Peninsula, Kuril Islands, Sakhalin Island, western coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, northeastern Hokkaido and possibly in the Commander Islands. Most birds winter in the seas surrounding Hokkaido and Honshu Japan with a few reaching South Korea and southern Japan. By contrast, Marbled Murrelet tends to remain closer to its breeding grounds along the west coast of the USA and Canada and this may account for its lack of vagrancy. In fact, none have been recorded east of the Pacific coast of North America.

Vagrancy to North America: Mlodinow (1997) lists 36 records of Long-billed Murrelet for North America between 1979 and 1996. These are widely scattered throughout out the Continent although Mlodinow notes a recent increase in records from the Pacific Coast, possibly reflecting closer observations by Marbled Murrelet researchers. Continental sightings are widespread involving inland lakes as well as the eastern Seaboard (Newfoundland to Florida). A number of west coast records have occurred in July and August whereas central and east coast records are typically later in the year.

Vagrancy to Europe: The discovery of a juvenile Long-billed Murrelet off the seawall at Dawlish Warren, Devon, England, in November 2006 - the first for Britain and second for the Western Palearctic - precipitated a spectacular twitch (Hopkins et al., 2006; Rylands, 2006). In the first four-days, an estimated 3,000 birders traveled to Dawlish to see the bird! This was followed in mid-December 2006 by a Long-billed Murrelet in Porumbacu, Romania. The first record for the Western Palearctic involved a first-winter bird found dead in a fishing net on Lake Zurich, Switzerland in December 1997 (Maumary and Knaus, 2000). How these individuals reached Europe is a mystery. The Dawlish Warren bird coincided an influx of Dovekie/Little Auk, perhaps hinting at an southerly route from the Arctic. Vinicombe (2006) points out that the retreating sea-ice coverage of the Canadian Arctic might facilitate the movement of auks from the Pacific into the Atlantic. It is interesting to note that Ancient Murrelet also shows a broad pattern of vagrancy across North America and in 1990-1992, an Ancient Murrelet was sighted off the Isle of Lundy, Devon.


Gaston, A. J. and Jones, I. L. (1998) The Auks. Bird Families of the World 4. Oxford University Press.

Friesen, V.L., Piatt, J.F., and Baker, A.J. (1996a) Phylogenetic relationships within the Alcidae (Charadriiformes: Aves). Molecular Biology and Evolution. 13: 359-367.

Friesen, V.L., Piatt, J.F., and Baker, A.J. (1996b) Evidence from cytochrome b sequences and allozymes for a new species of alcid: The Long-billed Murrelet (Brachyramphus perdix) Condor 98: 681-690.

Hopkins, D., Stone, D., and Rylands, K. (2006) The Long-billed Murrelet in Devon - a New British Bird. Birding World 19(11): 457-464.

Maumary, L., and Knaus, P. (2000) Marbled Murrelet in Switzerland: a Pacific Ocean Auk New to the Western Palearctic. British Birds 93: 190-199.

Mlodinow, S.G. (1997) The Long-billed Murrelet (Brachyramphus perdix) in North America. Birding 29(6): 460-475.

Patten, M.A. (1997) Systematics of the Marbled Murrelets. Birding 29(6): 473-474.

Rylands, K. (2006) Twitch of the Century. Birdwatch 175(Jan): 55-57.

Skriletz, J. (1996) First Washington record of the "Long-billed" Marbled Murrelet. Wash. Birds 5: 53-54.

Vinicombe, K. (2006) A Long-Haul Vagrant. Birdwatch 175(Jan): 56-57.

Copyright © 2007 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson

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