The thick-billed murre

Thu, 06/18/2020 - 6:00pm

Block Island has always been a wonderful spot to go birding, not only because it is an important stopover during migration.

Many thanks to Elizabeth Dickens who started the bird program with the Block Island School students in the early 1900s, and to Kim Gaffett for continuing it.

Each year, Mrs. Szabo implements a bird unit in her fourth grade class, and asks her students to choose a bird that they think will best fit the “Block Island Bird” of the year. Through nature walks, bird banding with Miss Gaffett, and research, each student has chosen and learned about a bird they believe best represents Block Island.

This is the second in a series.

Thick-billed murres would make a great bird to represent Block Island because they are unique and take good care of their babies, just like Block Islanders. They will go very far looking for food for their young. Thick-billed murres have beautiful eggs. You will find their eggs on rocky cliffs by the sea and they sound like they are laughing when you hear their call.

Thick-billed murres can grow up to 18 inches long and are very cute. They have a white throat, a white lower face and a black back.They have a thick bill and webbed feet, with a black rounded tail. Their lower face turns white in the winter. Thick-billed murres like to eat mostly shrimp, crustaceans, squid, and small fish. They get their food by diving and catching it with their beak. They can dive down to 200 feet in the water. They consume their food while still underwater. You will mostly see them in the water, but during breeding season they form dense colonies on cliffs. They like cold waters. This shows that they easily adapt for swimming in waters in the Northern regions, like Block Island.

Thick-billed murres don’t have nests, but they can make a pile of pebbles cemented by bird poop so the eggs do not fall off of the cliff. There is usually no clutch because there is only one egg. The color of the eggs are white-greenish, speckled with black. Their eggs are really pointy so they don’t fall off of the cliffs. The young usually leave the nest between 15 to 30 days before they fly. The parents take care of their young and feed their young. They live in the polar regions of the northern hemisphere and are very rarely seen this far south.

Thick-billed murres are perfect birds to represent Block Island because they are great parents and I think they are very special birds. I found a thick-billed murre on Scotch Beach this spring, and I think it was really cool to find such a rare bird here. Kim Gaffett told me that it was special that I was able to see a thick-billed murre and I have learned a great deal about them while researching.