Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Razorbill - Alca torda
ALCIDAE Members:
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General Comments By far the most numerous alcid in North Carolina waters is the Razorbill, and thankfully for all of us, it has greatly increased in numbers as a wintering bird over the past two decades, signaling a population increase in North American breeding population. In some recent winters, hundreds have seen seen on a given pelagic trip, and there are a few single-day counts of over 1,000 birds. Though it is more often encountered on pelagic trips, its main foraging areas are within about 10 miles of the beach; and persistent ocean-watching along a beach in winter, mainly on the east-facing Currituck Banks or Hatteras Island, can yield one to several Razorbills. However, observations from shore are usually "specks" many hundred yards away, either in direct flight low over the water or sitting on the ocean, where they may be constantly diving. Though observers report "alcid sp." on some CBCs, or during coastal watches, such birds are statistically "just Razorbills". As with the murres, there are no records in the state away from salt water.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S2N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident offshore and coastally, increasing. Formerly (prior to 1995) rare along the coast, but in recent years the status has become "often common" along/off the northern half of the coast, south to the Cape Hatteras area; generally common now in the offshore zone from Cape Hatteras northward. Uncommon to at times fairly common along/off the central coast (south to Carteret), but mostly rare farther southward, but still by far the most numerous alcid. One in the New River (Onslow) on 21 Jan 1933 is apparently the only record away from the ocean or Pamlico Sound (where there are a few records). Mostly from mid-Dec to late Mar; very rarely from 9 Nov to 3 May. Peak counts: 12,000 in flight from Cape Hatteras Point, 30 Jan 2018; 9,000, from Cape Hatteras Point, 15 Feb 2005; 7,990, Jennette's Pier (Dare), 26 Feb 2017; 6,558, from Cape Hatteras Point, 7 Mar 2022; 3,861 counted from shore flying past Cape Hatteras Point, 9 Mar 2021; 2,838 on a pelagic trip off Oregon Inlet, 27 Feb 2022; 2,266 counted from shore flying past Cape Hatteras Point, 15 Feb 2021; 2,000, on a pelagic trip out of Hatteras Inlet, 24 Feb 2013; 2,000 from Jennette's Pier, 9 Feb 2019; 1,650 off Oregon Inlet, 9 Feb 2023; 1,570 from Jennette's Pier, 17 Feb 2023; 1,430 on a pelagic trip out of Hatteras Inlet, 14 Feb 2015; 1,184, from the Outer Banks, 14 Feb 1994. All of the higher counts (over 100 birds) have been from 1994 to the present.
Piedmont No records.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips The Razorbill is now seldom missed on winter pelagic trips, but on some trips the birds are infrequent enough that observers fail to get good looks. To see it from shore, make sure you have a good scope, and try looking from Cape Hatteras northward. Jennette's Pier at Nags Head can be good in Jan and Feb. Johnnie Mercer's Pier at Wrightsville Beach can be productive, at times, along the southern coast -- though your chances are better the farther north you go along the coast. However, a few birds can often be seen from shore around jetties and the inshore ocean, without the need to go onto a pier -- though a scope is always recommended for any ocean-watching.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-05-17], LeGrand[2023-03-13], LeGrand[2022-09-12]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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