Fr: Guillemot de Kittlitz
Ang: Kittlitz’s Murrelet
All: Kurzschnabelalk
Esp: Mérgulo Piquicorto
Ita: Urietta di Kittlitz
Nd: Kittlitz' Alk
Sd: Brunalka


William Price
PBase-tereksandpiper & Flickr William Price

Text by Nicole Bouglouan


HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD Vol 3 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliott-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN : 8487334202

FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA - National Geographic Society - ISBN: 0792274512

Avibase (Denis Lepage)

BirdLife International

HBW Alive


ARKive (Christopher Parsons)

What Bird-The ultimate Bird Guide (Mitchell Waite)

Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia


Alaska Seabird Information Series - KITTLITZ’S MURRELET

Kenai Fjords National Park - National Park Service - U.S. Department of the Interior  

Kittlitz’s Murrelet - Brachyramphus brevirostris - in the Kodiak Archipelago, Alaska

Breeding Ecology of Kittlitz's Murrelets at Agattu Island, Aleutian Islands, Alaska

Alaska Department of Fish and Game

USGS – Science for a changing world - Field Identification of Kittlitz’s Murrelet

EDGE – Evolutionarily Distinct & Globally Endangered

Sea Web - Rapid Decline of Kittlitz’s Murrelets in Alaska


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Family Alcidae
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Kittlitz’s Murrelet
Brachyramphus brevirostris

Charadriiformes Order – Alcidae Family

The Kittlitz’s Murrelet differs from most of other Alcids by its appearance and peculiar plumage pattern, and by its behaviour. This species is solitary nester and often nests on the ground. Like numerous Charadriiformes, it uses its plumage as camouflage to avoid predation while nesting on barren slopes in coastal mountains.

The Kittlitz’s Murrelet is resident in its range with some movements related to ice conditions. It is closely associated with glaciers, and the future of this species is threatened by the impact of climate change.
The population is rapidly declining, although numbers in some areas appear to be stable. It is currently classified as Near Threatened.
The name of this bird pays tribute to the German biologist Heinrich von Kittlitz who first collected this species.

Length: 22-23 cm
Weight: 224 g

The Kittlitz’s Murrelet is a small, stocky seabird with large head, short bill and short tail.
The adult in breeding plumage has brownish upperparts with brown, grey and reddish gold feathers on head, back and wings. The belly is white with scattered small brown streaks and spots. This pattern is heavier on chin, throat, breast and flanks. The short, rounded tail is dark brown with white outer edges of rectrices.
The head has streaked pattern with white, buff and darker brown mottling. The face is whiter with brownish streaks and spots.
The short, narrow bill is brownish-black. The eyes are dark brown. Legs and webbed feet are black.

Male and female are similar. The adult in winter is mostly blackish-grey on the upperparts, with white-fringed scapulars. Centre of crown is black, whereas face, throat and underparts are white. We can see a small dark patch in front of the eye.
The juvenile resembles adult in winter, with finely barred face, neck, underparts and tail.

The Kittlitz’s Murrelet breeds in the coastal areas of Alaska, from Point Bay on NW coast of Alaska, S to northern regions of SE Alaska. It also breeds in the Russian Far East, from Okhotsk Sea to Chukchi Sea. During the breeding season, it can be found in S of Alaska Peninsula, Prince William Sound, Lower Cook Inlet and Kenai Fjords, Icy Bay, Yakutat Bay and the Malaspina Foreland and Glacier Bay.
The Kittlitz’s Murrelet winters offshore near the breeding areas, from E Siberia to N Kuril Islands. It is recorded as far as N Japan (Hokkaido) and from Aleutians E to Glacier Bay.

The Kittlitz’s Murrelet is usually seen along the rocky coasts. During summer, it frequents coastal and inland mountains in alpine tundra. It nests in rugged mountains near glaciers, or in previously glaciated areas, even inland.
It forages among icebergs and outflows of glacial streams.
During winter, it occurs offshore in S parts of the breeding grounds, over banks and along coasts.

The Kittlitz’s Murrelet gives a low-pitched groaning call, also described as a hoarse, long drawn-out squawk (Webster – 1950). It does not open the bill while calling, but a distention of the gular region is visible.
The groan, basic call “aaahhrr” or “urrrhhn” is used as contact call between mates or between members of a small group.
The “quack” call is heard sometimes from birds on the water “urgh”. This sound is a compressed version of the groan call.
The Kittlitz’s Murrelet appears to be silent inland when nesting, probably to avoid predation. Further research is required to confirm that this species is non-vocal over land.

The Kittlitz’s Murrelet’s diet is poorly known. Its short bill and high tongue cornification indicate an almost exclusively fish-eater. It also eats small crustaceans such as euphausiids crustaceans from late winter to early summer, whereas during the remainder of the breeding season, it takes mostly fish including sand heels, smaller account of herring, capelin and shiner perch.

The Kittlitz’s Murrelet forages by swimming underwater, mainly in cold waters and close to the shore in shallower waters, or near stable or advancing tidewater glaciers. They often form large flocks of up to 500 birds around abundant food sources.

Unlike numerous seabirds, the Kittlitz’s Murrelet is solitary nester and usually nests in remote locations on steep, rocky slopes often surrounded by glaciers. The pairs may nest considerable distances inland, up to 75 km from the seacoast.
The courtship displays of this species and unknown. However, they are probably monogamous with long-term pair-bonds. The copulation usually takes place at or near the breeding site in the open and less often on the sea. Both mates share all the nesting duties.

The Kittlitz’s Murrelet is mainly resident in its range, and migratory movements are limited. The birds of Bering Sea and E Pacific do not move. Only small numbers from the northernmost regions move SW to N Kuril Islands, and SE to Gulf of Alaska. Some birds may reach N Japan and California. The winter distribution is poorly known, but sightings have occurred in SE and W Alaska, and in some locations in S coasts of Alaska. Most birds are on the breeding sites and displaying by June.

The Kittlitz’s Murrelet takes off from water rapidly, and flies low over the surface on rapidly whirring wings.

The breeding season, and especially the laying, varies through the range. The laying occurs one month later at northernmost locations than in South. Variations range from mid-May to mid-August.
The Kittlitz’s Murrelet is solitary nester and isolated pairs usually nest on bare mountain scree slopes up to 570 metres or more, up to 2250 metres. The pairs nest on rock ledge or in crevice, more often on the ground covered with lichens, or on bare ground or at base of small rocks.

The female lays a single egg and both adults share the incubation during about 28-30 days. At hatching, the downy chick is buffy-yellow with black spots above, while the breast is grey and the belly paler grey. It is fed at nest by both parents. The semi-precocial chick leaves the nest 25-30 days after hatching, and usually flies directly to the sea in late July/early August.
Mortality during the nesting period is mainly due to avian predators and inclement weather.

The Kittlitz’s Murrelet suffers from gillnet fisheries and oil spills. Cyclical changes in the oceanic environment and glacial retreat are suspected to have negative impact on this species, by altering their food sources and foraging areas. Other important threats include natural predation, oil pollution and disturbance by commercial and recreational boaters.

The global population was estimated in 2010 at 30,900/56,800 individuals, but with the potential proportion of birds not counted in surveys, the population may number 48,000/82,000 individuals (2014) equating to 32,000/55,000 mature individuals.
This population is suspected to be in moderately rapid decline, and the Kittlitz’s Murrelet is currently listed as Near Threatened.