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Life on the Rocks: A Nest Story


High on the steep slopes of southwest Kodiak Island, a camouflaged camera silently snaps photo after photo. Through fog, rain, mist, and sunshine, images emerge of a life that begins on the rocks and eventually takes flight for the sea.

The Kittlitz’s murrelet (KIMU) is a rare and mysterious Alaskan seabird that lays a single egg in some of the most remote terrain imaginable. Since 2008, researchers have used game cameras to study the fate of Kittlitz’s murrelet nests on Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Of 146 discovered nests, 107 cameras have captured nearly 2 million photos over nine years.

Although not every Kittlitz’s nest experiences each of the following events, these photos give you a glimpse of life on the rocks for a young KIMU chick.


It all starts with an egg (me!).  In late May to early June, my parents lay one egg in a small bowl made of rocks. This nest bowl is located on a steep mountain slope covered in loose rock known as scree habitat.  The color of the egg looks kind of like mint chocolate chip ice cream – it is camouflaged to make me hard to find. Can you spot me?


Both of my parents take approximately 24 hour shifts incubating me. They switch in the early morning: one parent flies off to the ocean to eat while the other parent hunkers down against the rocks to keep me warm and protect me from predators: 


No matter how hard we try to be invisible on the slopes, sometimes predators like the red fox come and take away eggs or chicks. Predators cause nearly half of our nests to fail on Kodiak, and the red fox is the main offender:


After my first month as an egg, I’m ready to hatch. My parents must still keep me warm, brooding me as I adjust to the world outside my shell:  


After a few days, I am left alone for the first time as a chick. My parents head out to sea…

… And return with fish for me to eat!


They bring back long, skinny Pacific sand lance or fat, juicy capelin – small forage fish from the ocean.


And I swallow them whole!


I’m not the only young bird on the mountain – rock ptarmigan chicks also grow up on the rocky slopes. 


I try to act tough when visited by larger neighbors like this curious Sitka black-tailed deer.


Life on the rocks can be hard, but the wild landscape is home.


Just before I am ready to leave the nest….poof! I lose all my baby down to reveal juvenile plumage.


About 55 days after I started life as a single egg among the rocks, I decide I am ready to leave the nest and fly toward the ocean to find my own fish. I fledge!


Story by: Katie Stoner / Lisa Hupp




Last Updated: Jan 25, 2017
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