Shinnecock Bay Species Profile: Razorbill

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photo from Wikipedia

Fortunate birders spotted a pair of bobbing razorbills in the Shinnecock Inlet during the Annual Audubon Christmas Count last Saturday. The birds were diving for fish as the incoming tide raced through the inlet. Razorbills are the closest living relatives to the now extinct Great Auk and the heirs to that iconic bird’s distinctive profile. They are members of the Alcidae family, the birds we have instead of penguins here in the Northern Hemisphere.

Razorbills spend their lives at sea coming ashore to breed on remote rocky island colonies along the Canadian coastline and down to Maine. They mate for life and copulate up to 80 times during the month long mating season. Each pair produce only a single egg per breeding season and share responsibility for incubating it and later feeding their chick. Razorbills feed by diving deeply into schools of forage fish such as capelin and herring.

At the turn of the 20th century, razorbills were hunted for their feathers, meat and eggs. They are now protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN redlist. It is uncommon but not impossible to see them feeding offshore here this time of year.  A pair of high-powered binoculars or spotting scope helps to detect them often out beyond the surf-line.

Razorbills rarely venture farther south than North Carolina, but southern birders including Don and Lillian Stokes are reporting an unusual invasion of razorbills in the Gulf Coast of Florida off Sanibel and Captiva Islands this month. For more on that check out their website and this link on ebird.

December

The boatmen and clam-diggers arose early and stopt for me,
I tuck’d my trowser-ends in my boots and went and had a
good time;
You should have been with us that day round the chowder-
kettle

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself X