Volume 45, No. 1

Search by author or title:

Population trends and distribution of Common Murre Uria aalge colonies in Washington, 1996-2015


1USFWS, Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 715 Holgerson Rd, Sequim, WA 98382, USA (
2USGS, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, 12100 Beech Forest Road, Laurel, MD 20708, USA


THOMAS, S.M. & LYONS, J.E. 2017. Population trends and distribution of Common Murre Uria aalge colonies in Washington, 1996-2015. Marine Ornithology 45: 95 - 102

Received 24 August 2016, accepted 8 March 2017

Date Published: 2017/04/15
Date Online: 2017/04/02
Key words: Common Murre, Washington, trends, distribution, Poisson regression


Periodic assessments of population trends and changes in spatial distribution are valuable for managing marine birds and their breeding habitats, particularly when evaluating long-term response to threats such as oil spills, predation pressure, and changing ocean conditions. We evaluated recent trends in abundance and distribution of the Common Murre Uria aalge within Copalis, Quillayute Needles, and Flattery Rocks National Wildlife Refuges, which include all murre colonies in Washington except one, off-refuge, on Tatoosh Island. In 1996-2001 and 2010-2015, aerial photographic surveys were conducted during the incubation phase (mid-June through mid-July) each year. Using images from film (1996-2001) and digital (2010-2015) cameras that included all parts of each colony, we manually counted murres. We estimated population trend as annual percent change in whole-colony counts using an overdispersed Poisson regression model. Overall, numbers of murres counted at breeding colonies in Washington increased by 8.8% per year (95% CI 3.0%-14.9%) during 1996-2015. The overall statewide increase was driven by an increase at colonies in northern Washington of approximately 11% per year (95% CI 4.5%-17.8%). Despite an increasing trend, abundance remains lower than levels in the late 1970s, and the spatial distribution has changed. Colonies in southern Washington -- where murres were historically the most abundant -- are no longer active, or only minimally so, whereas colonies in the north -- which were rarely active in the early 1970s -- are now the largest. There was high variability in spatial distribution among years, a pattern that indicates a need for coordinated monitoring and movement studies throughout the California Current System to understand dispersal and colonization. Our results indicate that future management of refuge islands could protect both current and historic colony locations, given the patterns of colony dynamics and the uncertainty about long-term effects of a changing ocean ecosystem and predation pressure on the status of murres.


AINLEY, D., ADAMS, P. & JAHNCKE, J. 2014. Towards Ecosystem Based-Fishery Management in the California Current System –

Predators and the Preyscape: A Workshop [unpublished report]. Point Blue contribution number 1979, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Petaluma, California: Point Blue Conservation Science. 

AINLEY, D.G. & HYRENBACH, K.D. 2010. Top-down and bottom-up factors affecting seabird population trends in the California current system (1985–2006). Progress in Oceanography 84: 242-254. doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2009.10.001

AINLEY, D.G., NETTLESHIP, D.N., CARTER, H.R. & STOREY, A.E. 2002. Common Murre (Uria aalge) In: POOLE, A. (Ed.) The Birds of North America Online. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. [Available online at: Accessed 15 May 2016]. doi:10.2173/bna.666

BOND, N.A., CRONIN, M.F., FREELAND, H. & MANTUA, N. 2015. Causes and impacts of the 2014 warm anomaly in the NE Pacific. Geophysical Research Letters 42: 3414-3420. doi:10.1002/2015GL063306

CAMERON, A.C. & TRIVEDI, P.K. 1998. Regression Analysis of Count Data. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

CARTER, H.R., WILSON, U.W., LOWE, R.W., ET AL. 2001. Population trends of the common murre (Uria aalge californica). In: MANUWAL, D. A., CARTER, H.R., ZIMMERMAN, T.S., & ORTHMEYER, D.L. (Eds.). Biology and Conservation of the Common Murre in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Vol. 1: Natural History and Population Trends. USGS/BRD/ITR-2000-0012. Washington, DC: US Department of the Interior, US Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division. [Available online at: Accessed 15 May 2016].

CLARKE, E.D., SPEAR, L.B., McCRACKEN., M.L., ET AL. 2003. Validating the use of generalized additive models and at-sea surveys to estimate size and temporal trends of seabird populations. Journal of Applied Ecology 40: 278-292. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2664.2003.00802.x

COASST [Online]. 2015. What's Washed In – September 24, 2015. Seattle, WA: University of Washington, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team. [Available online at: Accessed 16 June 2016].

CAVOLE, L.M., DEMKO, A.M., DINER, R.E., ET AL. 2016. Biological impacts of the 2013–2015 warm-water anomaly in the Northeast Pacific: Winners, losers, and the future. Oceanography 29: 273-285. doi:10.5670/oceanog.2016.32

HALLEY, D.J., HARRIS, M.P. & WANLESS, S. 1995. Colony attendance patterns and recruitment in immature common murres (Uria aalge). Auk 112: 947-957. doi:10.2307/4089025

HAMEL, N.J., BURGER, A.E., CHARLTON, K., ET AL. 2009. Bycatch and beached birds: assessing mortality impacts in coastal net fisheries using marine bird strandings. Marine Ornithology 37: 41-60. 

HARRIS, M.P., HEUBECK, M., NEWELL, M.A. & WANLESS, S. 2015. The need for year-specific correction factors (k values) when converting counts of individual Common Guillemots Uria aalge to breeding pairs. Bird Study 62: 276-279. doi: 10.1080/00063657.2015.1017444

HARVEY, C.J., GOOD, T.P. & PEARSON, S.F. 2012. Top-down influence of resident and overwintering Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in a model marine ecosystem. Canadian Journal of Zoology 90: 903-914. doi:10.1139/Z2012-059 

HATCH, S.A. & HATCH, M.A. 1989. Attendance patterns of murres at breeding sites: implications for monitoring. Journal of Wildlife Management 53: 483-493. doi:10.2307/3801154

HELM, R.C, FORD, R.G. & CARTER, H.C. 2006. The oil pollution act of 1990 and natural resource damage assessment. Marine Ornithology 34: 99-108.

HIPFNER, J.M. 2005. Population status of the Common Murre Uria aalge in British Columbia, Canada. Marine Ornithology 33: 67-69.

HIPFNER, J.M., BLIGHT, L.K., LOWE, R.W., ET AL. 2012. Unintended consequences: how the recovery of sea eagle Haliaeetus spp. populations in the northern hemisphere is affecting seabirds. Marine Ornithology 40: 39-52.

HORTON, C.A. 2014. Top-down Influences of Bald Eagles on Common Murre Populations in Oregon. MSc thesis. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University. [Available online at: Accessed 16 June 2016].

IRONS, D.B., ANKER-NILSSEN, T., GASTON, A.J., ET AL. 2008. Fluctuations in circumpolar seabird populations linked to climate oscillations. Global Change Biology 14: 1455-1463. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2008.01581.x

KÉRY, M., DORAZIO, R.M., SOLDAAT, L., VAN STRIEN, A., ZUIDERWIJK, A. & ROYLE, J.A. 2009. Trend estimation in populations with imperfect detection. Journal of Applied Ecology 46: 1163-1172. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2664.2009.01724.x

LEISING, A.W., SCHROEDER, I.D., BOGRAD, S.J., ET AL. 2015. State of the California Current 2014-15: impacts of the warm-water “blob”. CalCOFI Reports 56: 31–68. [Available online at: Accessed 10 November 2016].

LYONS, J.E., ROYLE, J.A., THOMAS, S.M., ET AL. 2012. Large-scale monitoring of shorebird populations using count data and N-mixture models: Black oystercatcher surveys by land and sea. Auk 129: 645-652. doi: 10.1525/auk.2012.11253

MANUWAL, D.A. & CAMPBELL, R.W. 1979. Status and distribution of breeding seabirds of southwestern Alaska, British Columbia and Washington. In: BARTONEK, J.C. & NETTLESHIP, D.N. (Eds.). Conservation of Marine Birds of Northern North America. Wildlife Research Report 11. Washington, DC: US Department of the Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service. [Available online at: Accessed 15 May 2016].

MANUWAL, D.A., CARTER, H.R., ZIMMERMAN, T.S. & ORTHMEYER, D.L. (Eds.). 2001. Biology and Conservation of the Common Murre in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Volume 1: Natural History and Population Trends. USGS/BRD/ITR-2000-0012. Washington, DC: US Department of the Interior, US Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division. [Available online at: Accessed 15 May 2016].

NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION [Online]. 2016. MEI time series from Dec/Jan from 1940/1950 up to the present. US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at: Accessed 22 August 2016].

NEWMAN, M., ALEXANDER, M., AULT, T.R., ET AL. 2016. The Pacific decadal oscillation, revisited. Journal of Climate 29: 4399-4427. doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-15-0508.1

OFFICE OF NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARIES. 2008. Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Condition Report 2008. Silver Spring, MD: US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. [Available online at: Accessed 16 June 2016].

PARRISH, J.K., MARVIER, M. & PAINE, R.T. 2001. Direct and indirect effects: interactions between Bald Eagles and Common Murres. Ecological Applications 11: 1858-1869. doi:10.2307/3061101

PARRISH, J.K. & ZADOR, S.G. 2003. Seabirds as indicators: and exploratory analysis of physical forcing in the Pacific Northwest coastal environment. Estuaries 26: 1044-1057. doi:10.1007/BF02803362

R CORE TEAM. 2015. R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing. Vienna, Austria: R Foundation for Statistical Computing. [Available online at: Accessed 16 June 2016].

ROYLE, J.A. 2004. N-Mixture models for estimating population size from spatially replicated counts. Biometrics 60: 108-115. doi: 10.1111/j.0006-341X.2004.00142.x

SCHRIMPF, M.B., PARRISH, J.K. & PEARSON, S.F. 2012. Trade-offs in prey quality and quantity revealed through the behavioral compensation of breeding seabirds. Marine Ecology Progress Series 460: 247-259. doi:10.3354/meps09750

SPEICH, S.M. & WAHL, T.R. 1989. Catalog of Washington Seabird Colonies. US Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Report 88(6). Washington, DC: US Department of the Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service and Los Angeles, CA: US Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service. [Available online at: Accessed 15 May 2016].

STINSON, D.W., WATSON, J.W. & MCALLISTER, K.R. 2007. Washington State Status Report for the Bald Eagle. Olympia, WA: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. [Available online at: Accessed 16 June 2016].

SYDEMAN, W.J., THOMPSON, S.A., GARCIA-REYES, M., KAHRU, M., PETERSON, W.T. & LARGIER, J.L. 2014. Multivariate ocean-climate indicators (MOCI) for the central California current: environmental change, 1990–2010. Progress in Oceanography 120: 352-369. doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2013.10.017

THOMPSON, C.W., WILSON, M.L., PIERCE, D.J. & DEGHETTO, D. 1998. Population characteristics of Common Murres and Rhinoceros Auklets entangled in gillnet fisheries in Puget Sound, Washington, from 1993–1994. Northwestern Naturalist 79: 77-91. doi:10.2307/3536837

THOMPSON, C.W., RYAN, K., PARRISH, J.K., ZADOR, S. & WARHEIT, K. 2003. Restoration of Common Murre Colonies in the Copalis National Wildlife Refuge, Washington Phase I [draft final report]. Lacey, Washington: Tenyo Maru Trustee Committee.

VER HOEF, J.M. & BOVENG, P.L. 2007. Quasi-Poisson vs. negative binomial regression: how should we model overdispersed count data? Ecology 88: 2766-2772.

WATSON, J.W., STINSON, D., McALLISTER, K.R. & OWENS, T.E. 2002. Population status of Bald Eagles breeding in Washington at the end of the 20th century. Journal of Raptor Research 36: 161-169.

WILSON, U.W. 1991. Response of three seabird species to El Niño events and other warm episodes on the Washington coast, 1979–1990. Condor 93: 853-858. doi:10.1650/7574

WILSON, U.W. 1997. Washington Common Murre Colony Surveys, 1996. Sequim, WA: US Department of the Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

WILSON, U.W. 1999. Common Murre Colony Surveys, Washington Islands National Wildlife Refuge, 1997–1998. Sequim, WA: US Department of the Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

ZADOR, S.G., PARRISH, J.K. & PUNT, A.E. 2009. Factors influencing subcolony colonization and persistence in a colonial seabird, the common murre Uria aalge. Marine Ecology Progress Series 376: 283-293. doi:10.3354/meps07797

Search by author or title:

Browse previous volumes: