Staff from both the City of Sanibel Natural Resources Department, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF), and local birders have spotted the razorbill (Alca torda) off Sanibel's shores over the past several weeks.
The razorbill, one of the rarest of breeding seabirds in the United States, is typically found in arctic and subarctic marine waters from Maine to northern Russia with normal southern migratory patterns in the winter to New York, Long Island and New Jersey.
It is extremely rare for razorbills to be spotted on southwest Florida's gulf coast. There are fewer than 15 sightings previously in the entire state of Florida. Scientists believe their migratory pattern this season may have been disrupted due to Hurricane Sandy, which severely damaged their normal foraging grounds, forcing the birds to forage farther south.
Razorbills are tuxedoed birds that are strong fliers, can dive several hundred feet and swim under water, propelled by their wings. On land, they walk upright like penguins. Their diet consists of fish (mainly herring) crustaceans and marine worms.
Adult razorbills are short and stocky, measuring about 17 inches long, and have an average wingspan of 26 inches. They have a large head, short neck, and a thick, laterally compressed black bill marked with a vertical white line near the tip. The back, head, and legs are black, and the underside is snowy white, coming to a point on the throat during the breeding season, and extending up to the chin otherwise.
It is possible, due to malnourishment and exhaustion from travel outside of their normal migration pattern, that people may encounter deceased razorbills. The deceased razorbills are being collected by the Florida Museum of Natural History for study to better understand this extremely rare event. If you should come across a deceased razorbill, you are asked to contact the City of Sanibel at (239) 472-3700, or CROW at (239) 472-3644 to report the location.