Return to the Isle of Puffins
Seasonal declines in duration of incubation and chick periods of common murres at Bluff, Alaska in 1987-1991
Murphy, E.C. (1995) The Auk 112(4):982-993
The Common Murre (Uria aalge) produces a single-egg clutch, and the female may replace the egg if it is lost. Even at breeding colonies in highly seasonal environments, egg laying may span several weeks. For example, the mean range of egg-laying dates was 41 days in a five-year period at Bluff, a coastal colony in western Alaska. In each of those five years, incubation periods of eggs were negatively related to laying date (i.e. incubation periods of eggs laid later in season were shorter). This is the first documentation of a seasonal decline in the incubation period of this species, and one of the few for birds in general. Analyses of seasonal changes in weather patterns indicated that the seasonal shortening of the incubation period cannot be explained by changes in environmental conditions. The duration of the chick period also declined seasonally in all five years, similar to results reported elsewhere. Overall, duration of the period between egg laying and fledging averaged about six days less for the latest breeding pairs than for the earliest breeding pairs. There is no evidence of a seasonal decline in hatching or fledging success at this colony. Consequently, these results indicate that murres breeding later in the season at Bluff reduce the duration of both the incubation and chick periods well in advance of seasonal deterioration of environmental conditions. Chicks develop more rapidly than embryos in eggs, and chicks at sea likely grow and develop faster than chicks at the colony. As the time remaining for completion of development decreases through the summer, quicker hatching of eggs and sea-going of chicks will be advantageous. Formation of sea ice throughout the region in late fall likely is the primary time constraints electing for accelerated developmental patterns of eggs and chicks of late-breeding murres at Bluff. In highly seasonal environments, seasonal time constraints may influence most or all phases of avian breeding cycles.

Keywords: none


Links at this site

Links to other sites