Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ancient Murrelet

With 55 mph gusts and possibly the lowest air pressure in Minnesota history expected over the next two days, the first and only record of an Ancient Murrelet in South Dakota comes to mind.  A farmer in Ipswich, in the north-central South Dakota, found the bird in November 1993 after a snow storm. Ancient Murrelets feed off the Pacific shore of North America. They breed in burrows along the coasts of British Columbia and Alaska; they winter further south to the California coast.  The storm that brought this murrelet originated in the North Pacific was exceptionally large. 

The bird died soon after being found.  The body was given to Dave Williams, who, in turn, gave it to me.  I prepared the carcass as a museum specimen, and sent to the U.S. National Museum.  I have never encountered a more emaciated bird. Williams wrote up an account of this discovery in South Dakota Bird Notes (46:34) and mentions that six records of this species exist for Minnesota (and at least two of the somewhat similar Dovekie).

South Dakota birders had been on the lookout for an auk, the family to which murrelets belong.  Laura Ingalls Wilder, in her autobiographical classic, The Long Winter, reported her father's finding a strange bird after an October 1880 blizzard.  After the storm, they released the bird, which they tentatively identified as a Great Auk (but which, based on her description, was probably a murrelet or a Dovekie) (Steve Van Sickle (1988) South Dakota Bird Notes (40:95-96)).

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I always wondered if the story in the Laura Ingalls Wilder Book could be true. Now I know that it was! Wish I could band birds here in Zumbrota. So many I would love to keep track of...