Revised Marbled Murrelet Inland Survey Protocol

The marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) is a small, robin-sized seabird that is federally listed as threatened from the Canadian border south to central California. The bird spends the majority of its time on the ocean, resting and feeding in near-shore marine waters and flies inland to nest.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service works with partners to survey and monitor marbled murrelet populations. In January 2024, the Pacific Seabird Group's Marbled Murrelet Technical Committee completed a revision of the Marbled Murrelet Inland Survey Protocol

The Service considers the 2024 Inland Survey Protocol the best available science related to evaluating potential murrelet occupancy within nesting habitat. The expectation is that land managers will transition to the new protocol such that by 2026, all survey areas will be surveyed per the revised 2024 Inland Survey Protocol. We recommend project proponents, as appropriate, seek technical assistance from the Service to evaluate survey efforts during the transition so as to avoid the risk of incidental take


The five aspects of the marbled murrelet inland survey protocol techniques that have changed significantly since the 2003 protocol include:

  1. Changes to the sampling effort, as well as an option for alternate sampling design that treats multiple presence detections as occupancy; 

  2. Change in terminology from Survey Sites to Survey Strata (Survey Stratum singular), as well as how the survey strata are applied within a Survey Area; 

  3. Updates to distances associated with Survey Station effective radius and stand contiguity;

  4. Interpreting survey results, including circling behaviors; and 

  5. An updated datasheet.

One point of clarification to the published protocol: Based on data from 137 nests from southern British Columbia to northern Oregon, the Service has determined that the nesting season for the marbled murrelet in Washington is best defined as the period from April 1 to September 23. The end date of September 15 identified in the Glossary of the 2024 Inland Survey Protocol (p. v) was inadvertently conflated with Oregon’s nesting season end date, though the in-text reference to the dates (p. 9) was correct. The same mistake was repeated in the Glossary of the Habitat Management Recommendations document (p. iv).

Simultaneous to the publication of the 2024 Inland Survey Protocol was the publication of the Pacific Seabird Group’s Terrestrial Habitat Management Recommendations for Marbled Murrelets. While the protocol helps partners make an occupancy determination for the areas surveyed, the Habitat Management Recommendations document includes methods for delineating (i.e., mapping) occupied sites beyond the survey area boundaries. The Habitat Management Recommendations document also includes information on other aspects of marbled murrelet habitat management, including how the integrity of the forested landscape, including marbled murrelet occupied areas, can be managed and maintained in ways that may contribute to the goals set forth in the 1997 Marbled Murrelet Recovery Plan, thereby aiding in the species’ recovery



See a memo from the Washington Fish & Wildlife Office State Supervisor to forest land managers regarding the marbled murrelet inland survey protocol update