110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Lynn Bowen
posted Feb 10, 2013 - 10:05:53am
No one knows for sure, but it seems that razorbills were blown by Superstorm Sandy from the northeastern U.S. to Florida in December. Thirteen of these seabirds in poor shape from exhaustion were found by a Beach Patrol employee in December at Ponce Inlet. Many of them died shortly thereafter.
That Beach Patrol employee brought a few of the razorbills to the Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary, hoping that TLC and good food would return them to good health, but it was too late. At around the same time, other razorbills were seen in other parts of Florida, also with sad fates.
Razorbills are 17-inch birds that live in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. Their wingspan is 26 inches, and they weigh 1.6 pounds. They have deep bills, large heads and thick necks. These stocky birds are black on top and white underneath, resembling small penguins.
On the rare occasions when they are on shore, they can even walk upright like a penguin. At breeding time, their non-breeding plumage is duller, and their neck and throat fades to white, as seen in the photo accompanying this column. Their average life span is 13 years, but many live to be 20.
Razorbills are agile birds that mate for life. They don't build nests, but in May or June, they lay one egg on a bare rock on the steep cliffs and rock crevices in coastal Scotland, Russia, France, Norway, Canada, Iceland or the northeastern U.S.
Seventy percent of them breed in Iceland, a far cry from warm Florida! No wonder they suffered so much when they accidentally ended up here!
They don't breed until they are 4 years old. Both parents incubate the precious egg for 35 days. Then the adult male parent will accompany the chick to sea at night when it is only 3 weeks old to avoid predators — herring gulls, great black-backed gulls, ravens and foxes. Other than at breeding time, razorbills never come to dry land or beaches.
Razorbills are excellent divers who find their diet of fish far from shore where many birds don't go. Razorbills earned their name because their bills really are razor-sharp, not only for grasping their food, but to fight off predators.
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at email@example.com.
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