Bird Bricks

Morbidly fascinating but . . . this is pure marine biology gold when reflecting on 2020.

It’s our final gift to you for this year, made possible thanks to our dear Alaskan research colleagues.

These are “bird bricks”. They used to be tiny birds. 

Bigger birds like gulls and diving birds who feed on herring, are too big to fit down a Humpback Whale’s throat. Their fate, if they end up in the mouth of a Humpback feeding on the same prey, would be to drown or, to have a lucky escape if the whale opened its mouth at the surface. 

 We’ve blogged about that previously at this link. 

The narrow throats of baleen whales are an adaptation whereby only small prey with large surface area get into the whales’ stomachs . . . usually.

These 3 smaller birds were likely feeding on krill and, Humpbacks were too. 

 They DID fit down the throat of a Humpback.

They accidentally became engulfed, went down a Humpback’s throat, and came out the other side. With there being no way for baleen whales to mechanically break down such large “items”, their digestive enzymes would not be sufficient for chemical digestion.

And yes, “bird brick” is the official scientific term. We know this is life-enhancing information for you.

DNA analysis confirmed that these birds were an Ancient Murrelet and two Marbled Murrelets.

Please see the great research paper:
*Source: Haynes, Trevor & Campbell, Matthew & Neilson, Janet & López, J.. (2014). Molecular identification of seabird remains found in humpback whale feces. Marine Ornithology. 41. 161-166.

There you go dear community. We will continue to be here for you, and the whales. Working hard, and like you, striving to find our way out of crappy situations. 

With huge chunks of gratitude to our colleagues who gave us permission to use these photos more than a year ago.

Share this with someone who feels like they’ve experienced the equivalent of what happened to these birds? 

Consider us in your year-end giving? 

We have wonderful marine-themed masks as an incentive. Please see this link. 

Happy Better Year to you. 

Photo credits:
Left: National Park Service photo/Chris Gabriel
Right: National Park Service photo/Janet Neilson Janet Neilson


4 thoughts on “Bird Bricks

  1. Fascinating information shared in a relevant even lighthearted way(not for the little birds of course) summing up a difficult year. Warm wishes to all at MERS for a new year of well supported, meaningful work that gives hope for expanded awareness and therefore care. With gratitude for everything you contribute to my knowledge.

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