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Japanese Murrelet Synthliboramphus wumizusume
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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This species has a small population which is thought to be declining rapidly as a result of disturbance at breeding sites, predation and mortality from drift-net fisheries. It is therefore listed as Vulnerable.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

26 cm. Small alcid. Short, thick, pale bluish-grey bill. Black head with black crest (summer only) and white stripes on sides of head from top of eyes, meeting on nape. Blackish and bluish-grey upperparts. White throat and underparts. Greyish-black flanks. Yellowish-grey legs and feet. Juvenile has browner upperparts. Similar spp. Ancient Murrelet S. antiquus lacks crest and has black on throat.

Distribution and population
Synthliboramphus wumizusume is endemic to the warm current regions near central and southern Japan, where it breeds on uninhabited islands (BirdLife International 2001). The most important breeding sites are in Kyushu, notably the islands of Biro-jima, Koya-jima and Eboshi-jima, and the Izu Islands, notably Onbase-jima and Onohara-jima. Breeding has also been recorded on Gugul Island off the southern coast of South Korea, and it may also breed in Peter the Great Bay, Primorye, Russia. After breeding, birds move northwards to an area south-east of Hokkaido. They also winter along the coasts of Honshu and Kyushu, some birds apparently moving south to the Nansei Shoto Islands. The population is unlikely to exceed 10,000 mature individuals. It is still declining in many localities, particularly the Izu Islands (Carter et al. 2002).

Population justification
The global population is roughly estimated to be in the band c.2,500-9,999 mature individuals (Ono 1996 and BirdLife International 2001), equating to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals. National population sizes have been estimated at < c.100 breeding pairs and c.50-1,000 individuals on migration in Korea and c.100-10,000 breeding pairs and c.50-1,000 wintering individuals in Japan (Brazil 2009).

Trend justification
Populations are thought to be declining rapidly through the combined impact of predation by introduced rats, disturbance of breeding sites and adult mortality in fishing nets.

It frequents rocky islets and headlands during the breeding season (between mid-February and early May), nesting in single pairs, small groups and sometimes in large colonies. In the non-breeding season it occurs offshore, occasionally entering bays. Juveniles have recently been sighted outside the breeding season in the Seto Inland Sea, an area previously thought unsuitable for Japanese Murrelet, at least 150 km from the nearest known breeding site (Iida 2008). This was confirmed by the sighting of several family parties around the south-west of Yashima Island in the western Seto Inland Sea (Iida 2010). Two adult and two chicks with down, seen close to the coast of Tateyama City at the south end of Boso peninsula, point to other unknown breeding locations, as these sightings were 70 km from the nearest known breeding islands (Fujita 2008). 

Sport fishing on isolated offshore reefs and islets is a major threat as it causes direct disturbance and habitat degradation. Fish, discarded by anglers, attract crows and gulls which then predate eggs and chicks. Indeed, predation by crows is the main threat on Biro-jima and Onohara-jima. Brown rat Rattus norvegicus has been introduced to some nesting colonies and has almost extirpated the population on Koya-jima, after rats had been successfully eradicted in 1987/1988 until 2006 when they were reintroduced, and then possibly eradicated for a second time. Landings by fishermen pose a continuing threat of rat reintroduction (M. Sato in litt. undated). Annual mortality of adults in drift-nets has been estimated at 1-10% of the total breeding population, but these figures may be underestimates. There is some evidence that fish stocks have declined around the Izu Islands because of changes in water temperature. Oil spills are a potential threat.

Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix I. It is legally protected in Japan. In addition to the several breeding colonies already protected as national wildlife protection areas, including Nanatsu-jima, Kiinagashima, Okino-jima and Danjo-gunto, in November 2010 Biro-jima, Tadanae Island, Ohnohara-jima and Kanmuri-jima also received this designation (K. Ono in litt. 2012). Gugul Islet (South Korea) has been designated as a Natural Monument. In Japan, educational materials have been produced to inform fishers about the species and the importance of the largest known breeding colony on Biro-jima Island.Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct coordinated surveys of breeding sites to determine current population size and trends. Establish new protected areas at important colonies that are not officially protected. Restrict human access to islands with breeding colonies. Control predators at breeding colonies. Research and design methods to reduce the bycatch of seabirds by fisheries.

BirdLife International. 2001. Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.

Carter, H. R.; Ono, K.; Fries, J. N.; Hasegawa, H.; Ueta, M.; Higuchi, H.; Moyer, J. T.; Chan, L. K. O.; Forest, L. N. De; Hasegawa, M.; Vliet, G. B. Van. 2002. Status and conservation of the Japanese Murrelet (Synthliboramphus wumizusume) in the Izu Islands, Japan. Journal of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology 33: 61-87.

Iida, T. 2008. The first confirmation of the non-breeding habitat of Japanese Murrelets Synthliboramphus wumizusume. Ornithological Science 7(2): 163-165.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Anderson, O., Benstead, P., Calvert, R., Gilroy, J., Khwaja, N., Taylor, J.

Ono, K.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Synthliboramphus wumizusume. Downloaded from on 24/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 24/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Crested murrelet (Synthliboramphus wumizusume) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Alcidae (Auks)
Species name author (Temminck, 1835)
Population size 2500-9999 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 110 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species