Thick-billed Murre (Uria lomvia)

Thick-billed Murre

[order] CHARADRIIFORMES | [family] Alcidae | [latin] Uria lomvia | [UK] Thick-billed Murre | [FR] Guillemot de Brunnich | [DE] Dickschnabel-Lumme | [ES] Arao de Brunnich | [NL] Dikbekzeekoet


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Uria lomvia NA, EU n coasts n oceans
Uria lomvia arra n Japan to the Aleutian Is. and se Alaska
Uria lomvia eleonorae e Taymyr Pen. to New Siberia islands (nc Russia)
Uria lomvia heckeri Wrangel and Herald Is., Chukotsk Pen. (ne Russia)
Uria lomvia lomvia ne Canada to Novaya Zemlya (nw Russia)

Physical charateristics

In summer Thick-billed Murre Uria lomvia are black on the back, neck, and upper breast and glossy white below-they look as if they are wearing elegant dinner jackets. In winter, the throat, cheeks, and upper breast turn white. The Thick-billed Murre has darker and shinier feathers than the Common Murre. The Thick-billed Murre’s beak is shorter and stouter than the Common Murre’s. The beak is black, and in summer the two species can be told apart by the distinct white line along the cutting edge of the top half of the Thick-billed Murre’s beak. Adult murres weigh about 1 kg and are about 30 cm tall, although the Thick-billed Murre is slightly heavier..

Listen to the sound of Thick-billed Murre

[audio: Murre.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 64 cm wingspan max.: 75 cm
size min.: 40 cm size max.: 44 cm
incubation min.: 24 days incubation max.: 25 days
fledging min.: 50 days fledging max.: 25 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 1  


North America, Eurasia : North coasts


These seabirds are found year-round off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Canada. The Common Murre is generally present in waters that are free of ice, whereas the Thick-billed Murre lives almost year-round in colder areas where there is at least some floating pack ice.

Murres are not very good fliers or walkers. Their wings are smaller than those of any other flying bird of their size, and they have to flap very fast to take off, taxiing across the surface of the water and often bouncing off the tops of waves before getting airborne. However, they are fast fliers once in the air, where they travel at about 75 km per hour.

Because their tails are very short, murres use their feet as rudders for flying, spreading them apart for complicated manoeuvres. Murres cannot turn sharply and may have difficulty landing at their rocky breeding colonies on stormy days, sometimes bumping into a cliff and circling back to make several attempts before successfully landing on a ledge.

Murres are awkward on land because their feet are placed far back on their bodies. They either shuffle along slowly on their haunches or patter erratically with wings flapping wildly.

However, murres do not rely heavily on flying and walking, because they spend eight or nine months of the year continuously at sea, coming ashore only to breed. Swimming and diving are the murres’ specialties.


Early in the season, murres visit their colony only occasionally, but as the date of egg laying approaches, at least one member of each pair stays at the breeding site.

Most murres breed where predators such as foxes cannot reach them-on small ledges on steep coastal cliffs, on steep-sided rocky islets, and, in the case of the Common Murre, on flat rocky islets. Where the two species are found together, Common Murres generally occupy the broader shelves and tops of stacks, whereas Thick-billed Murres are confined to very narrow ledges.

Murres tend to breed in huge colonies, the largest in Canada being on Funk Island, 55 km off the northeast coast of the island of Newfoundland, where about 340 000 pairs of Common Murres congregate in an area of about 1.5 ha, equal to about three football fields. Imagine the noise of adults and their chicks calling and squealing, and the smells of uneaten fish and the droppings of that many birds wafting out from such a colony!

Murres of both species only begin to breed successfully at about five years of age and generally lay one egg each breeding season. No nest is constructed, and the egg is laid directly on the rocky ledge. The egg is relatively large, weighing about 100 g, and is incubated, or kept warm, continuously by one of the parents. They take equal turns of one or two days sitting while the other parent is feeding at sea. The bird keeps the egg warm by tucking it under its feathers against the bare skin of the “brood patch” on the lower belly.

An egg may be dislodged from a narrow ledge, especially if birds are disturbed and fly off in panic, or if gulls or ravens swoop in to steal the egg. When an egg is lost, a second may be laid after about two weeks. Occasionally, if two eggs are lost in quick succession, a third may be laid, but this is the most the female is able to produce in one season. A chick hatched from a late egg may not have time to grow to fledging, when it leaves the colony, before the short summer ends.

The chick hatches after about a month and is covered with an insulating coat of downy feathers. The parents continue to brood the chick to keep it warm as long as it stays at the colony. One parent always stays with the chick while the other brings it food, usually fish weighing from 5 to 20 g, which it may gather by flying to feeding areas as far as 100 km from the colony. Within three weeks, the chick grows from about 70 g at hatching to about 250 g, or a quarter of the adult weight. At the same time, it acquires a set of waterproof feathers to replace the down coat.

At three weeks, the chick tests its wings as it prepares to leave the colony with the male parent. At this age, it does not have proper flight feathers, just short, stubby wings that are not large enough to enable it to actually take off. In colonies on high cliffs, some of them more than 500 m high, the chick hurls itself from its ledge and glides steeply down to the sea, closely followed by its parent. At breeding colonies on low islands, the chick and adult scramble on foot down to the water. They set out on the chick’s first foray from the breeding colony in the late evening, so that by dawn they can be as far as possible from the colony, where the chick could be eaten by gulls. They then begin their migration together. The female leaves the colony alone soon afterwards. The chick stays with the adult until it is full-grown and able to fly and feed itself, likely at about two months of age.

Feeding habits

These birds spend almost all their lives at sea and dive beneath the surface to feed on fish, squid, and shrimp-like crustaceans called krill; in fact, they eat almost any marine life up to the size of a 30-g fish. Murres may approach deep-swimming schools of fish from below and attack them as they are silhouetted against the dim light far above.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Uria lomvia breeds locally in coastal areas of northernmost Europe, which accounts
for less than a quarter of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population
is very large (>1,800,000 pairs), and was stable between 1970-1990. Although the
large population in Svalbard was broadly stable during 1990-2000, the species suffered
declines in Iceland and Greenland, and declined overall at a rate that-if sustained-
would equate to a large decline (>30%) over three generations, meaning is has a red list status o vulnerable.
The number of breeding Thick-billed Murres in Canada have declined in the 1960s and 1970s, it seems to be stable or increasing at present. However, some colonies in west Greenland were completely wiped out by hunting in the twentieth century, and no recovery is apparent.
Thick-billed Murre status Least Concern


More or less migratory in breeding areas where seas largely closed by ice in winter (northern Siberia, northern Bering Sea, Arctic Canada, Baffin Bay). In low-arctic Greenland and in European sector of polar basin part of population present all year, though some birds (notably immatures) move away in autumn; hence dispersive there, with movements more comparable to those of Guillemot. Marine range lies over continental shelves, with oceanic records rare.

Distribution map

Thick-billed Murre distribution range map

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *