Volume 48, No. 2

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Two unprecedented auk wrecks in the northwest Atlantic in winter 2012/13


1Atlantic Laboratory for Avian Research, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB E3B 5A3, Canada
2 35 Rowell Rd., Wellfleet, MA 02667-7826, USA
3Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University, 200 Westboro Rd., North Grafton, MA 01536, USA
4Service canadien de la faune, 801-1550 ave. d'Estimauville, QC G1J 0C3, Canada
5Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA
6Northern Essex Community College, 100 Elliot St., Haverhill, MA 01830, USA
7Canadian Wildlife Service, 6 Bruce St., Mount Pearl, NL A1N 4T3, Canada
8National Audubon Society Seabird Restoration Program, 159 Sapsucker Woods Rd., Ithaca, NY 14850, USA
9Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 159 Sapsucker Woods Rd., Ithaca, NY 14850, USA
10Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, College of Veterinary Medicine, 501 D.W. Brooks Dr., Athens, GA 30602, USA
11North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, 1751 Varsity Dr., Raleigh, NC 27606, USA
12New York State Dept of Environmental Conservation, Wildlife Health Unit, 108 Game Farm Rd., Delmar, NY 12054, USA
13US Fish and Wildlife Service, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, 1324 Sandbridge Rd., Virginia Beach, VA 23456, USA
14US Fish and Wildlife Service, North Carolina Migratory Bird Field Office, 155A LA Keiser Dr., Columbia, NC 27925, USA


DIAMOND, A.W., MCNAIR, D.B., ELLIS, J.C., RAIL, J.-F., WHIDDEN, E.S., KRATTER, A.W., COURCHESNE, S.J., POKRAS, M.A., WILHELM, S.I., KRESS, S.W., FARNSWORTH, A., ILIFF, M.J., JENNINGS, S.H., BROWN, J.D., BALLARD, J.R., SCHWEITZER, S.H., OKONIEWSKI, J.C., GALLEGOS, J.B. & STANTON, J.D. 2020. Two unprecedented auk wrecks in the northwest Atlantic in winter 2012/13. Marine Ornithology 48: 185 - 204

Received 13 May 2019, accepted 23 April 2020

Date Published: 2020/10/15
Date Online: 2020/07/26
Key words: Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, mass mortality, irruption, wreck, ocean heating, Hurricane Sandy


An unprecedented irruption of thousands of Razorbills Alca torda into Florida in winter 2012/13 was followed by a 'wreck' of Razorbills and Atlantic Puffins Fratercula arctica in outer Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in January-March 2013. We describe these events using citizen-science sources (eBird and beached-bird surveys) and band recoveries, then we discuss them in relation to extreme weather and oceanographic change. We explored effects on likely source populations using census and monitoring data, along with possible contributions from population increases, reduced food supply, and extreme weather. Winter 2012/13 followed a marine heatwave throughout the northwest Atlantic, whose effects included reduced availability of plankton. We attribute the irruption of Razorbills into Florida partly to delayed effects of Hurricane Sandy, which disrupted their coastal habitat sufficiently to cause starving birds to move south on the Labrador Current as far as Florida. Despite the continuation of anomalously warm ocean temperatures in subsequent years and a reduction in plankton communities in the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine that continues to date, no comparable events have been recorded in subsequent winters; this supports our theory that the delayed effects of Hurricane Sandy contributed to these wrecks. We highlight the power of these datasets to detect and to investigate birds' responses to extreme and anomalous conditions, which in turn provides insight into the dynamics of rapidly changing ecological systems.


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