Volume 46, No. 1

Search by author or title:

Assessing the utility of satellite transmitters for identifying nest locations and foraging behavior of the threatened Marbled Murrelet Brachyramphus marmoratus


1Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University, 321 Richardson Hall, Corvallis OR 97331
2Ccurrent address: Wildlife Research and Monitoring Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Ontario, Canada (
3Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, 104 Nash Hall, Corvallis, OR 973314US Geological Survey-Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Oregon State University, 104 Nash Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331


NORTHRUP, J.M., RIVERS, J.W., NELSON, S.K., ROBY, D.D. & BETTS, M.G. 2018. Assessing the utility of satellite transmitters for identifying nest locations and foraging behavior of the threatened Marbled Murrelet Brachyramphus marmoratus. Marine Ornithology 46: 47 - 55

Received 28 August 2017, accepted 10 December 2017

Date Published: 2018/4/15
Date Online: 2018/3/12
Key words: animal tracking, Argos, movement ecology, nesting ecology, platform terminal transmitter, seabird


Understanding movements of small seabirds has been particularly challenging due to limitations in tracking technology. As tracking devices become smaller and more powerful, and are deployed on smaller bird species, they need to be evaluated. We assessed whether small, platform terminal transmitters (PTTs; 5 g) could be used to study the nesting, movement, and foraging behaviors of the Threatened Marbled Murrelet Brachyramphus marmoratus in Oregon, US. We attached PTTs that transmitted locations and temperature measurements through the Argos satellite system to seven adult murrelets. We fit continuous-time correlated, random-walk models to location data to examine coarse movement patterns and determine whether murrelets were moving inland to potential nesting habitat. We used temperature measurements from the PTTs to examine murrelet diving patterns, indicative of foraging. Sixteen independent movements appeared to be consistent with inland movements. However, the PTT-tagged murrelets appeared to be on the ocean during nearly all of these movements, based on concurrent temperature readings. To further assess the utility of PTTs in locating murrelet nests, we deployed 3 PTTs in trees within suitable nesting habitat. Naive observers required 2-9 d to attain sufficient high-quality locations to attempt to locate these PTTs, and 4-13 h of searching to locate the exact trees. The PTTs we tested can be useful for describing coarse patterns of movement and foraging, but are not an improvement over VHF transmitters for locating nests. All of the tagged murrelets ceased movement during the course of the study. Three were found dead, and the rest were unrecoverable. We suspect that tagging negatively affected welfare of these birds. We recommend waiting for future versions of these tags that weigh less and include GPS technology before deploying them on small diving seabirds such as the Marbled Murrelet.


ACKERMAN, J.T., ADAMS, J., TAKEKAWA, J.Y., CARTER, H.R. et al. 2004. Effects of Radiotransmitters on the Reproductive Performance of Cassin's Auklets. Wildlife Society Bulletin (1973-2006) 32: 1229-1241.

ANDREWS, R.D. & ENSTIPP, M.R. 2016. Diving physiology of seabirds and marine mammals: Relevance, challenges and some solutions for field studies. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology 202: 38-52.

BARBAREE, B.A., NELSON, S.K., DUGGER, B.D.,  ET AL. 2014. Nesting ecology of Marbled Murrelets at a remote mainland fjord in southeast Alaska. Condor 116: 173-184.

BECKER, B.H. & BEISSINGER, S.R. 2003. Scale-dependent habitat selection by a nearshore seabird, the Marbled Murrelet, in a highly dynamic upwelling system. Marine Ecology Progress Series 256: 243-255.

BERTRAM, D.F., MacDONALD, C.A., O'HARA, P.D., ET AL. 2016. Marbled Murrelet Brachyramphus marmoratus movements and marine habitat use near propsed tanker routes to Kitimat, BC, Canada. Marine Ornithology 44: 3-9.

BINFORD, L.C., ELLIOTT, B.G. & SINGER, W.W. 1975. Discovery of a nest and the downy young of the Marbled Murrelet. Wilson Bulletin 87: 303-319.

BRADLEY, R.W., COOKE, F., LOUGHEED, L.W. & BOYD, W.S. 2004. Inferring breeding success through radiotelemetry in the marbled murrelet. Journal of Wildlife Management 68: 318-331.

BURGER, A.E. & SHAFFER, S.A. 2008. Perspectives in ornithology application of tracking and data-logging technology in research and conservation of seabirds. Auk 125: 253-264.

COMMITTEE ON THE STAUTS OF ENDANGERED WILDLIFE IN CANADA. 2013. Assessment and Status Report on the Marbled Murrelet Brachyramphus marmoratus in Canada. Ottawa, ON: Environment and Climate Change Canada,. p. 94.

EGEVANG, C., STENHOUSE, I.J., PHILLIPS, R.A., ET AL. 2010. Tracking of Arctic terns Sterna paradisaea reveals longest animal migration. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107: 2078-2081.

ELLIOTT, K.H., HEWETT, M., KAISER, G.W. & BLAKE, R.W. 2004. Flight energetics of the Marbled Murrelet, Brachyramphus marmoratus. Canadian Journal of Zoology 82: 644-652.

HAMER, T.E. & NELSON, S.K. 1995. Characteristics of Marbled Murrelet nest trees and nesting stands. In: RALPH, C.J., HUNT, G.L. JR., RAPHAEL, M.G. & PIATT, J.F. (Eds.) Ecology and Conservation of the Marbled Murrelet. Albany, CA” Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture. pp. 151-161.

HENKEL, L.A., BURKETT, E.E. & TAKEKAWA, J.Y. 2004. At-sea activity and diving behavior of a radio-tagged Marbled Murrelet in Central California. Waterbirds 27: 9-12.

HUSSEY, N.E., KESSEL, S.T., AARESTRUP, K., ET AL. 2015. Aquatic animal telemetry: a panoramic window into the underwater world. Science 348. doi:10.1126/science.1255642.

JODICE, P.G.R. & COLLOPY, M.W. 1999. Diving and foraging patterns of Marbled Murrelets (Brachyramphus marmoratus): testing predictions from optimal-breathing models. Canadian Journal of Zoology 77: 1409-1418.

JOHNSON, D.S. 2016. crawl: fit continuous-time correlated random walk models to animal movement data. R Package version 2.0. [Available online at: Accessed 7 February 2018.]

JOHNSON, D.S., LONDON, J.M., LEA, M.A. & DURBAN, J.W. 2008. Continuous-time correlated random walk model for animal telemetry data. Ecology 89: 1208-1215.

JONSEN, I.D., FLEMMING, J.M. & MYERS, R.A. 2005. Robust state-space modeling of animal movement data. Ecology 86: 2874-2880.

KAYS, R., CROFOOT, M.C., JETZ, W. & WIKELSKI, M. 2015. Terrestrial animal tracking as an eye on life and planet. Science 348, doi:10.1126/science.aaa2478.

LOPEZ, R., MALARDE, J.P., ROYER, F. & GASPAR, P. 2014. Improving Argos doppler location using multiple-model Kalman filtering. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing 52: 4744-4755.

LORENZ, T.J., RAPHAEL, M.G., BLOXTON, T.D. & CUNNINGHAM, P.G. 2016a. Low breeding propensity and wide‐ranging movements by marbled murrelets in Washington. Journal of Wildlife Management 81: 306-321.

LORENZ, T.J., RAPHAEL, M.G. & BLOXTON, T.D. 2016b. Marine habitat selection by Marbled Murrelets (Brachyramphus marmoratus) during the breeding season. PloS One 11: e0162670.

LOUZAO, M., WIEGAND, T., BARTUMEUS, F. & WEIMERSKIRCH, H. 2014. Coupling instantaneous energy-budget models and behavioural mode analysis to estimate optimal foraging strategy: an example with wandering albatrosses. Movement Ecology 2(1): 8. doi:10.1186/2051-3933-2-8.

McCLINTOCK, B.T., LONDON, J.M., CAMERON, M.F. & BOVENG, P.L. 2015. Modelling animal movement using the Argos satellite telemetry location error ellipse. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 6: 266-277.

NELSON, S. 1997. Marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus). In: POOLE, A. (Ed.). The Birds of North America Online, No. 185. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. [Available online at: http://bna.birds.cornell. edu/bna/species/276. Accessed 7 February 2018.] 

NELSON, S.K. & HAMER, T.E. 1995. Nest success and the effects of predation on marbled murrelets. In: RALPH, C.J., HUNT, G.L. Jr., RAPHAEL, M.G. & PIATT, J.F. (Eds.) Ecology and Conservation of the Marbled Murrelet. Albany, CA: Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture. pp. 89-97.

NELSON, S.K. & PECK, R.W. 1995. Behavior of Marbled Murrelets at nine nest sites in Oregon. Northwestern Naturalist 76: 43-53.

NEUMANN, J.L., LAROSE, C.S., BRODIN, G. & FEARE, C.J. 2018. Foraging ranges of incubating Sooty Terns Onychoprion fuscatus on Bird Island, Seychelles, during a transition from food plenty to scarcity, as revealed by GPS loggers. Marine Ornithology 46: 11-18.

NORRIS, D.R., ARCESE, P., PREIKSHOT, D., ET AL. 2007. Diet reconstruction and historic population dynamics in a threatened seabird. Journal of Applied Ecology 44: 875-884.

PEERY, M.Z., BEISSINGER, S.R., BURKETT, E., ET AL. 2006. Local survival of Marbled Murrelets in central California: roles of oceanographic processes, sex, and radiotagging. Journal of Wildlife Management 70: 78-88.

PEERY, M.Z., BEISSINGER, S.R., NEWMAN, S.H., ET AL. 2004. Applying the declining population paradigm: diagnosing causes of poor reproduction in the marbled murrelet. Conservation Biology 18: 1088-1098.

PEERY, M.Z., NEWMAN, S.H., STORLAZZI, C.D. & BEISSINGER, S.R. 2009. Meeting reproductive demands in a dynamic upwelling system: foraging strategies of a pursuit-diving seabird, the Marbled Murrelet. Condor 111: 120-134.

PONTIUS, K.E. & KIRCHHOFF, M.D. 2009. Prey-capture by Marbled Murrelets in Southeast Alaska. Northwestern Naturalist 90: 151-155.

RAPHAEL, M.G., BALDWIN, J., FALXA, G.A., ET AL. 2007. Regional population monitoring of the Marbled Murrelet: field and analytical methods. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-716. Albany, CA Pacific Northwest Research Station, Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture. 

RAPHAEL, M.G., & FALXA, G.A. 2016. Northwest Forest Plan—the first 20 years (1994-2013): status and trend of marbled murrelet populations and nesting habitat. Portland, OR: Pacific Northwest Research Station, Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture, .

RAPHAEL, M.G., SHIRK, A.J., FALXA, G.A. & PEARSON, S.F. 2015. Habitat associations of marbled murrelets during the nesting season in nearshore waters along the Washington to California coast. Journal of Marine Systems 146: 17-25.

ROBINSON, W.D., BOWLIN, M.S., BISSON, I., ET AL. 2010. Integrating concepts and technologies to advance the study of bird migration. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 8: 354-361.

RONCONI, R.A. & BURGER, A.E. 2008. Limited foraging flexibility: increased foraging effort by a marine predator does not buffer against scarce prey. Marine Ecology Progress Series 366: 245-258.

SINGER, S.W., NASLUND, N.L., SINGER, S.A. & RALPH, C.J. 1991. Discovery and observations of two tree nests of the Marbled Murrelet. Condor 93: 330-339.

SOANES, L.M., BRIGHT, J.A., BRODIN, G., MUKHIDA, F. & GREEN, J.A. 2015. Tracking a small seabird: First records of foraging behaviour in the Sooty Tern Onychoprion fuscatus. Marine Ornithology 43: 235-239. 

TRIERWEILER, C., KLAASSEN, R.H., DRENT, R.H., ET AL. 2014. Migratory connectivity and population-specific migration routes in a long-distance migratory bird. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 281 (1778): 20132897-1-20132897-9.

TURCHIN, P. 1998. Quantitative Analysis of Movement: Measuring and Modeling Population Redistribution in Plants and Animals. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

UNITED STATES FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE. 1997. Recovery plan for the threatened Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) in Washington, Oregon, and California. Portland, OR: USFWS.

VISSER, I., & SPEEKENBRINK, M. 2010. depmixS4: An R-package for fitting mixture models on mixed multivariate data with Markov dependencies. [Available online at: Accessed 8 February 2018.] 

WHITWORTH, D.L., NELSON, S.K., NEWMAN, S.H., ET AL. 2000. Foraging distances of radio-marked Marbled Murrelets from inland areas in southeast Alaska. Condor 102: 452-456.

WHITWORTH, D.L., TAKEKAWA, J.Y., CARTER, H.R. & MCIVER, W.R. 1997. A night-lighting technique for at-sea capture of Xantus' Murrelets. Colonial Waterbirds 20: 525-531.

YOUNG, H.S., MAXWELL, S.M., CONNERS, M.G. & SHAFFER, S.A. 2015. Pelagic marine protected areas protect foraging habitat for multiple breeding seabirds in the central Pacific. Biological Conservation 181: 226-235.

Search by author or title:

Browse previous volumes: