Where have all the razorbills gone?

4 09 2013
A Razorbill fitted with a solar powered satellite tag!

A Razorbill fitted with a solar powered satellite tag! (photo by L. Welch)

Do you lie awake at night wondering where alcids go when they’re done raising their young? Given this winter’s mortality events in puffins and razorbills, I sometimes do. And thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I can slake my curiosity. Linda Welch and her team at the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge have deployed satellite tags on ten Razorbills, and it looks like all but one are still going strong. (That bird, known as “Roosevelt,” has, evidently, not been heard from in weeks.) You can track the individual birds at this study link, and even sign up to get daily updates from the project. The purpose of the work addresses a perennial problem in seabird research; for a short and focused period during breeding, the birds are accessible and relatively easy to study. Once they leave the breeding colony, however, they are largely lost to follow up and our knowledge of their behavior and ecology becomes hazy indeed.

With the satellite tags, each bird’s precise location can be determined instantaneously, giving information on both small scale, daily movements, and large scale migrations. After this past winter’s unprecedented irruption of Razorbills all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico, it will be most intriguing to see where these birds go this winter. By tracking their movements, and knowing more about where they like to spend time foraging and which areas they only pass through briefly, these researchers can be in a better position to advise developers of offshore wind projects how best to site these farms. Welch and the USFWS team recognize the immense value in renewable energy, but they also want to do right by seabirds. And SEANET applauds them!