Seabirds Occupy Artificial Condos

Cassin's Auklet shown in artificial burrow.

In late January 2012, a helicopter flies 29 barrels of water to a remote restoration site on Santa Barbara Island.  Rain is scarce this year requiring biologists to hand water seabird habitat restoration plots that were planted last fall.  Biologists also prepare for this season’s seabird monitoring work by placing video cameras at known nest sites, powering up vocalization equipment to broadcast seabird sounds, and weeding invasive plants from restoration sites.

The Landing Cove site on Santa Barbara Island, active with Cassin’s Auklets and Xantus’s Murrelets last year, was teeming with burrowing activity by early February of this year. Cassin’s Auklets are found nesting under native plants such as Catalina Tarweed and Wild Cucumber in this area. These seabirds burrow under mature shrubs to create their nests. Biologists help encourage nesting by providing artificial burrows known as “condos” at this site.

A nestcam captures a pair of Xantus's Murrelets nesting.

Close by, Xantus’s Murrelets are nesting and a freshly laid egg is caught on camera in early March.  Cameras capture the bird’s rarely observed nesting behaviors, movement of adults, and the departure of chicks from the nest. Biologists have witnessed mating behaviors, fights among pairs, and even watched an egg being kicked out of a nest by competing adults.  The cameras allow biologists to document these rarely seen behaviors, especially for the murrelet chicks which leave their nest 1-2 days after hatching.

Farther down the slope, two adult Cassin’s Auklets are seen incubating in natural burrows.  Biologists are still waiting to confirm nesting of Cassin’s Auklets in the upper Landing Cove this year. A camera set up outside of the lower Landing Cove condos show Cassin’s Auklets spending a lot of time peering out of their condo entrances.

The increased seabird activity at this restoration site is welcome news this season and bodes well for the restoration of the seabird populations to Santa Barbara Island.

Background on Santa Barbara Island Seabirds

Natural Cassin's Auklet burrow under a native tarweed plant.

The Channel Islands are very important nesting grounds for both Cassin’s Auklets and Xantus’s Murrelets. Xantus’s Murrelets are rare seabirds with only 5,000 to 12,000 individuals estimated worldwide. California supports 40% of the world’s population for murrelets and the largest colony exists on Santa Barbara Island. Cassin’s Auklets are not as rare as murrelets but they were wiped out by feral cats in the early 1900’s on Santa Barbara Island. Biologists started seeing the first sign of them returning in 2009 following restoration.

Learn more about MSRP’s seabird restoration projects

Watch a film about Santa Barbara Island restoration




-Gabrielle Dorr, MSRP Outreach Coordinator