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Monday, December 24, 2012

Razorbills in the Gulf

[Off Sanibel Island, Florida, December 2012]

Look up "Razorbill" on the "All About Birds" resource hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the following appears:

A large auk of the northern Atlantic Ocean, the Razorbill can be found offshore in winter as far south as New Jersey, and occasionally Virginia.

Not this year: a major irruption is occurring as this post is being written in SW Florida (as well as on the Atlantic side) as noted in the following eBird article.

I ventured to Sanibel Island based on a tip from Bob Pelkey and after a fruitless search at Blind Pass (separating Sanibel from Captiva), proceeded to the Lighthouse and Pier area where, in the distance, 3 small black objects were observed bobbing on the waves:

The Razorbill is a very special bird: it is the closest living relative of the Spearbill, or Great Auk, a magnificent alcid that was shot, clubbed and collected to extinction.

Seen in its winter plumage, this magnificent, tube-shaped alcid looks like a penguin but can fly.

Razorbill seen off Sanibel Island:

Completely at home on the water [powerful 'flippers' set really far back near its tail, seen below], the Razorbill comes to land only to breed.

An expert diver, it surfaces briefly before descending into the waters to fish again.


The last record of a razorbill from the Gulf was in 2005 (at that time a single specimen), thus their presence this year is causing appropriately warranted consternation and excitement.

The authorities of High Birding are presently postulating what might have caused this "unprecedented" phenomenon and the leading explanation hypothesizes a scarcity of food in their traditional wintering waters. For all we know, the Razorbills could simply be re-enacting a migration route from 200 years ago before their numbers suffered a precipitous decline (but were thankfully spared the fate of the now extinct Spearbill).

Regardless of why they're here; they have certainly livened up the birding scene in Florida and have surely offered "lifer" opportunities to many in the area.


Bob Pelkey said...

Fantastic study and reporting, Hemant.

Lillian Stokes said...

Great photos!

Digital Plume Hunter said...

Thanks Lilian. Loved your photos of the razorbill as well; good catching up with you at the Pier today amidst all the action from the peregrine!