Thick-billed Murre at Kingston, Ontario

This first winter Thick-billed Murre at Kingston on Lake Ontario, on 4 December 2013 is now a very rare Ontario bird. Historically, Thick-billed Murres were more common on Lake Ontario, often occurring in big "wrecks". Most previous birds found on the Great Lakes were first winter birds (Gaston 1988) that had come down the St. Lawrence River (Gaston 1988 and Pittaway 2001), and not from Hudson Bay caused by its sudden freezing over, as formerly believed.


Click for Short Video of the Kingston Thick-billed Murre


I watched the Kingston first winter Thick-billed Murre for three hours from 11:20 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on 4 December 2013. It paddled about with its eyes closed most of the time. It may be exhausted and/or hungry because it dove only twice, but caught something both times. This young bird reminded me of seeing Thick-billed Murres at the breeding colonies in the Canadian High Arctic in 2006.


In this photo taken on 16 August 2006, the quarter-grown juvenile Thick-billed Murre had just jumped off the cliff at Prince Leopold Island on Lancaster Sound, Nunavut. Accompanied by its male parent, it will swim in the currents to winter off Newfoundland and Labrador, several thousand kilometres away. Gaston (1988) believes that Thick-billed Murres recorded on the Great Lakes were from the High Arctic colonies.


Thick-billed Murres breed on narrow ledges of precipitous cliffs over 300 metres tall at Prince Leopold Island, Nunavut. 16 August 2006.



Pittaway, R. 2001. Lake Ontario Pelagic Trap


Gaston, A.J. 1988. The Mystery of the Murres: Thick-billed Murres, Uria lomia, in the Great Lakes Region, 1890-1986. Canadian Field-Naturalist 102(4): 705-711. Mark Cranford drew my attention to this article. PDF available on request. Please email me.