Alaska Science Center
If you think the world has been completely mapped and catalogued, and there is nothing new to discover, consider the Kittlitzs Murrelet. This uncommon little seabird is the least well known of the auk family, and probably the least well known of any bird in America. Kittlitzs occur from southeast Alaska to Siberia, but are common only in a few isolated areas, and the total population may number as few as 20,000 individuals.
Scientists have only observed a few Kittlitz's nests, and when you consider their location, its easy to see why that is. Kittlitzs nest in solitary spots high in mountainous terrain, as far as 75 km from the sea! Nests often occur in recently de-glaciated terrain, and the highest concentrations of these birds have been reported in Alaska, in areas with mountainous coasts and many glaciers.
The female simply lays one speckled egg in a depression on the bare ground. Because their nests are so hard to find, and because there are so few of these birds, scientists have concentrated on describing the basic characteristics of the species. Scientists have only learned a little bit about the ecology of Kittlitzs Murrelets. Kittlitz's are generally found in the turbid waters near tidewater glaciers and at the heads of fiords. They forage close to shore in sheltered bays and inlets. Adults carry one fish at a time to their chick- a greyish-brown cryptic summer plumage- They are vulnerable to human disturbance because so much of their population is concentrated in a few small areas, and as much as 10% of the world population may have been killed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill.