Biologist looks and listens for marbled murrelets in a Midpen preserve

Discovering a Seabird in the Forest

Marbled murrelet at sea

The marbled murrelet (MER-let) is an iconic species representing why protecting and restoring redwood forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains is important. 

Marbled murrelets are seabirds that spend most of their lives at sea and in near-shore waters. Despite over a century of effort, scientists did not know where marbled murrelets nested until 1974, when a tree worker 150 feet up in a Douglas fir in Big Basin State Park encountered an odd-looking chick with webbed feet. 

During the spring and summer, they lay a single egg and raise their chick on a wide mossy branch high in an old-growth tree. They nest up to 50 miles inland and travel between the forest and ocean for fish at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour.

Helping Rare Birds Survive and Thrive

Marbled murrelet egg

Marbled murrelets still nest in the Santa Cruz Mountains, though they are federally listed as a threatened species and few old growth trees remain. Midpen is protecting marbled murrelets by preserving what remains of their habitat and annually conducting acoustic and visual surveys in Midpen preserves to understand where they are still breeding.

We also collaborate with California State Parks assessing large-scale forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains using innovative LiDAR data and other technologies to identify important murrelet habitat. In time, preserved forests can return to old-growth conditions that marbled murrelets need. 

Keeping it Crumb Clean

You are not likely not see or hear these secretive birds while visiting Midpen preserves, but your actions affect their survival. We know garbage and food waste left behind in the forest by people attracts ravens, crows and jays which are the primary predators of marbled murrelet eggs and chicks. Please so your part to protect marbled murrelets by packing out everything you pack in. Thank you for keeping your forest picnic crumb clean!

keep it crumb clean

Key Partners and Stakeholders

Midpen is part of a collaborative network of federal, state, and local agencies, and academic researchers in the Santa Cruz Mountains working toward marbled murrelet recovery. California State Parks remains a close partner in this effort, in addition to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Pacific Seabird Group Marbled Murrelet Technical Committee and other park and open space agencies and land trusts.