The razorbills rare visit to Anna Maria is captured by AMI Outfitters owner/photographer Steve Traves.
Dec. 28 was a busy day on the Anna Maria City Pier. Between local fishers, restaurant patrons and birders hoping to get a rare sighting of a razorbill sea bird, people were swarming the pier. Islander Photo: Mark Young
There’s an estimated 500,000-700,000 razorbill breeding pairs in the world, but a Florida sighting of the penguin-looking sea bird is rare.
Razorbills made an appearance at the Anna Maria City Pier beginning around Dec. 21.
The razorbill looks a lot like a penguin because of its black and white coloring, but gets its name from its thick, black bill.
According to bird experts, the rarity of sightings in Florida stems from the fact that razorbill breeding habitat is typically cold water coastlines with rocky shores and cliffs. Their habitat range typically does not run south of Maine in North America.
About 65 percent of the bird’s population nesting is in Iceland, hence the rarity of Florida appearances from the razorbill.
The word of razorbills at the pier spread rapidly and birders already within driving distance soon packed the pier to get a sighting.
Theories of why the razorbills are making a South Florida appearance vary. Cornell University reports above average sea surface temperatures in the northeast Atlantic while others believe it’s possible that Superstorm Sandy disrupted the birds’ food supply.
According to statewide media reports, razorbill sightings are being reported in record numbers across the Gulf of Mexico coast, and ornithologists are saying because the razorbill is primarily a coastal bird, the birds in the Gulf flew all the way to the tip of South Florida and up the west coast to their current positions in Tampa Bay and beyond.
The razorbill only comes ashore during breeding season and they rarely fly over land.
Experts say there have been about 15 sightings in the last 100 years in Florida, and only a handful of the birds appear at a time. Ornithologists are reporting thousands of razorbills this year.
While the arrival of the razorbills has created a lot of excitement, it also has created a lot of concern.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is reporting about two dozen dead razorbills have been found at Honeymoon Island State Park, Naples, Fort Lauderdale and Anna Maria.
FWC post death examinations of the birds are showing the razorbills died with mostly empty stomachs. Whether it’s from a loss of food supply or the inexplicable long migration, experts are not yet sure.