Are birds telling us something?

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
February 2013

Unless you are a serious birder from the cold North Atlantic Ocean in Canada and the U.S., you probably have not seen a Razorbill, which is in the family Alcidae that includes oceanic species that come to land only to colony nest in rocky crevices or burrows. Their thick, deep bill and sleek wings with an elongated pointed tail gives them a fishing and escape advantage as they can submerge quickly to capture fish, crustaceans, squid, and worms even up to 60 ft depths.

Photos by Richard Baker.

Since they seldom are found south of Cape Hatteras, NC and have previously been recorded in Florida only fourteen times and now at the Sebastian Inlet State Park (Nita’s favorite birding place), we went looking for it.  Yes, it was swimming close to shore on the south side of the Inlet near the first parking area.  It seemed oblivious to us and even ducked under the fishing lines from fishers along the bank. 

 In December, thousands appeared as far south as Miami, Florida Keys, and Gulf of Mexico along with Black Scoters and other cold water birds.  There are a number of very different speculations all related to climate change:

  1. Storms such as Hurricane Sandy pushed birds in different directions.
  2. Recent Sea Surface Temperature (SST) increased 3-4˚ C above normal along the Northeast Coast reduced food sources.
  3. Warmer conditions produced population expansion in Eastern Canada, which forced younger birds to find new food sources.
  4. Habitat pollution including changes in salinity and acidity

Clearly further research is needed to solve why these birds came south in such large numbers.   Will these birds find enough food so they can survive their long journey back to the Northeast?

Addition information can be found at:

Fig 1. Razorbill facing into the late evening sun with its unique bill and pointed tail
Fig 2 Beginning dive…Razorbill’s use their wings to help them dive for food
Fig 3 Razorbill diving with wings out and visible
Fig 4 Razorbill swimming underwater with wings out
Fig 5 Looking at you
Fig 6 Looking at you

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