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Xantus' Murrelet
(Synthliboramphus hypoleucus)

The Xantus’ Murrelet, a small black and white seabird, is coming back from a dangerous population decline. On Anacapa Island, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of southern California, the number and success rate of nests of these robin-size seabirds have more than doubled. Why?

In 2002 – 2003, the Channel Islands National Park, California Department of Fish & Game, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and Island Conservation removed Black Rats (Rattus rattus) from Anacapa Island with funding from the American Trader Trustee Council. Rats preying upon seabirds is a global problem which is implicated in the extinction of many native species on islands. Small ground nesting seabirds, such as the Xantus’ Murrelet, are particularly threatened since invasive rats can easily access and prey on their eggs, chicks, and even adults.

Anacapa Island is characterized by caves, alcoves, and crevices spreading over high cliffs, offering the ideal nesting habitat for the Xantus’ Murrelet. A California island endemic, the Xantus’ Murrelet is one of the rarest seabirds in the world, with an estimated population of fewer than 10,000 breeding individuals. The total global breeding range is limited to the Channel Islands down to islands off the coast of Baja California. Anacapa, along with Santa Barbara Island, host the largest colonies of Xantus’ Murrelets in the US.

Xantus’ Murrelets spend most of their lives at sea, but return to islands to nest between the months of February and June. They return to land at night to avoid predators and nest high above the ocean in the rocky crevices of the island’s cliffs. The female lays two eggs and both parents take turns protecting them over a two-month span. The chicks hatch covered in soft down with their eyes wide open. After two days, their parents coax them to leave the nest with plaintive calls from sea and the chicks free fall into the sea below. A murrelet can live up to 20 years, returning to the same nesting site every year with the same mate.

Introduced black rats on the three islets comprising Anacapa Island had serious negative impacts on the Xantus’ Murrelet population. In 2002, with the removal of the rats, not only did that stop, but the population began a tremendous revival which continues today. Since the project, researchers have not found any sign of rats and nesting success has more than doubled since rats are not there to eat the eggs. While it is difficult to determine the exact breeding population on Anacapa, data indicate the nesting population may have also doubled since rat removal. The removal of predation by rats is the most likely reason for the rapid increase in murrelet nesting effort and success.


Learn more about the amazing restoration of Anacapa Island...

Xantus' Murrelet on San Jeronimo Island

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