A  downy murrelet chick was, drawn from real life through a telescope by Paul Harris Jones. ORDER TODAY >>   

A  downy murrelet chick was, drawn from real life through a telescope by Paul Harris Jones.



Join "accidental naturalist" Maria Mudd Ruth on a journey of discovery as she illuminates the secret life of the Marbled Murrelet, an endangered seabird that depends on the contested old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest for its survival.

Ruth traces reports of the bird back to Captain Cook’s ill-fated voyage of discovery on the Pacific Ocean in 1778, and explores the mindset of 19th and 20th-century naturalists who, despite their best efforts, failed to piece together clues about the whereabouts of the bird’s nest for 185 years.

Part naturalist detective story, part environmental inquiry, this vibrant narrative follows the improbable trail from the hallowed halls of the Smithsonian Institute to the foggy coastal environs of Redwood National Park. Along the way, the author makes a compelling case for the search for meaning in our changeable world.

This 2013 Mountaineers Book reissue features an updated epilogue, a full index, and a list of ways you can help protect the murrelet, the oceans where it swims, and the coastal forest where it nests.

Rare Bird is available not only through Mountaineers Books and other online booksellers but also at two independent brick-and-mortar bookstores in the author's hometown of Olympia, Washington: Browsers Books and Orca Books.



"Heartfelt and thoughtful, inspired and well-written...It will transport you into a world you didn’t realize existed."  -- Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and Eye of the Albatross

"The story of the discovery of the nest is alone worth the price of the book."  -- Booklist

"Fine nature writing, good science, and compelling historical anecdotes spanning the time of Captain Cook to contemporary naturalists, loggers, and fishermen combine in an engaging narrative. Strongly recommended."  -- Library Journal

"Ruth's details of the hunt for bits of information about the bird from dissecting specimens to counting birdcalls in the predawn light provide rare insight into the trials and joys of scientific discovery."  -- Publishers Weekly

To read all the reviews click here.  


Why I wrote Rare Bird:

From the moment I first encountered the marbled murrelet on the Internet in 1999, I felt compelled to learn about its strange life and tell its extraordinary story. I knew little about birds and even less about seabirds, but I couldn't resist the call of this chunky, endearing little seabird invariably described as "mysterious", "elusive", "secretive", and "endangered", and its breeding habitat as "ancient", "magnificent", and "threatened". And, I couldn't resist the call of my Muse to tell a never-before-told story.

Photo by Glenn Bartley.

Photo by Glenn Bartley.

I moved my family from Virginia to California in 2001 so that I could dedicate myself fulltime to the research and writing of Rare Bird. The more I learned about this bird and the threats it faced from logging, urbanization, oil spills, and gillnet fishing made me panic. I had to help save this bird. Though the murrelet is on lists of threatened and endangered species in most of its range, the protections have yet to stabilize or recover the rapidly dwindling population of this species

Most of what is known about the marbled murrelet is bound up in scientific journals, not in popular wildlife or nature magazines or books. I wanted to share the stories of the marbled murrelet with everyone I knew and raise public awareness of its plight. I spent five years in the field, at libraries, at seabird conferences, and at the computer researching and writing Rare Bird

Hope is the Thing with Feathers, Christopher Cokinos' beautiful and sad histories of five extinct birds. The great auk, a relative of the marbled murrelet, is one of them.

The last line of the book has become a mantra for me: "I have learned much from this history and have realized, finally, that sadness at loss is our best first response. It should not be our only response. We know the world gives us life, beauty and solace. We would be ungrateful if we failed to give that back."

Rare Bird is a small gesture of my profound gratitude. But gratitude and hope need to be accompanied by action. There is much to do to help this bird.

The 2013 reissue of Rare Bird by Seattle's Mountaineers Books in paperback has arrived at the right time and in the right place. Conservation groups are rallying around this seabird to protect it in federal and state court against the timber industry, which is intent on removing protections placed on the murrelet's nesting habitat: the mature and old-growth forests of the Pacific coast. In Washington state, where I live, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service are developing a Long-Term Conservation Strategy for the marbled murrelet on 1.4 million acres of forest land managed by the DNR in western Washington. This document is long overdue and is necessary to guide the DNR in its management of the remaining fragments and patches of murrelet nesting habitat on its state trust lands.

The public in included in the process of developing the conservation strategy. Conservation groups submitted extensive written comments (July 2013) supporting the 2008 Science Team Report, which recommends a significant effort to conserve nesting habitat that would otherwise be considered for logging to generate revenue to fund construction of public institutions (schools) and other services for for timber-dependent counties in western Washington. The Department of Natural Resources has released its draft Environmental Impact Statement for a set of six alternatives for the Marbled Murrelet Conservation Strategy. Public comment will be open until Thursday March 9, 2017. More information can be found on this website under "Marbled Murrelets" and "Blog."