Family Auks (Alcidae)

Least Concern

Ancient Murrelet (Synthliboramphus antiquus)


French: Guillemot à cou blanc German: Silberalk Spanish: Mérgulo antiguo

Alca antiqua

J. F. Gmelin

, 1789,

Bering Sea


Closely related to S. wumizusume. Races poorly differentiated, and species perhaps better treated as monotypic#R; further investigation desirable. Two subspecies provisionally recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. a. antiquus (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) – Yellow Sea and Sea of Japan (Peter the Great Bay) N through Sakhalin, Kuril Is and N Sea of Okhotsk (Talan I) to Kamchatka, then E through Aleutians to S Alaska (St Lazaria I, Forrester I, Kodiak I, Semidi Is, Shumagin Is, Sandman Reefs), and then S to Queen Charlotte Is (British Columbia). Old breeding record from Washington State#R.
  • S. a. microrhynchos Stepanyan, 1972 – Mednyi I, in Commander Is.
  • Winters mostly offshore on continental shelf off Japan and Korea S to Taiwan, and off W America S regularly to California, rarely to N Baja California.

    Descriptive notes

    24–27 cm; c. 206 g (177–249 g); wingspan 40–43 cm. Small, stocky alcid; thick, rather short horn-coloured bill with blackish culmen; dark brown iris; black... read more


    Mainly vocal during breeding season. Males have a peculiar habit of singing at night from a tree or... read more


    Offshore and along rocky sea coasts. Breeds on islands, often with dense vegetation of trees,... read more

    Food and feeding

    During early nesting in British Columbia mostly planktonic crustaceans, especially euphausiids (mainly Thysanoessa spinifera, with... read more


    Arrives in vicinity of colonies a month before laying, with first landing c. 2–3 weeks before first egg laid; median clutch... read more


    Post-breeding dispersal somewhat limited, some birds remaining within breeding range. Rapid exodus... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Total population estimated at 1,500,000 birds (1,000,000–2,000,000). Vulnerable in many areas, and population much reduced... read more

    Recommended citation

    Nettleship, D.N., Boesman, P. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). Ancient Murrelet (Synthliboramphus antiquus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 27 January 2020).