By Kerry Banks
There are few birds as quirky as this little auk from Haida Gwaii, with its bizarre — and risky — nesting habits and inexplicable lateral migration. Thanks to a concerted decade-long effort to save them from rats, these oddities’ odysseys continue…
We’re anchored out by the breakers when we hear the high-pitched singing of the ancient murrelets rising above the murmur of the waves. The twittering sound swirls around us, climbing and falling on the wind, an eerie avian symphony seeping out of the black Pacific night. These pigeon-sized, black-grey-and-white seabirds have travelled 8,000 km from their wintering grounds near Japan to breed and nest here in Haida Gwaii, a scimitarshaped archipelago of 150 islands off B.C.’s north coast. There are dozens of these little, chubby auks bobbing out in the darkness tonight, all of them gathered to partake in one of Earth’s most astonishing natural wonders.
The murrelets are singing to attract their babies, two-day-old chicks that have just left their underground burrows on Limestone Island and are now making a mad dash to the sea to rendezvous with their waiting parents. The nests are beneath tree roots deep in the forest, and it will take the chicks about 10 minutes to reach the shore.