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Razorbill Fact File

Alca torda

Weight

505-890g

(17.8-31.4oz)

Length

43cm

(16.9in)

Lifespan

Wild 29 years

Record 41 years

Diet

Carnivore

Fish, Crustaceans

Conservation Status

IUCN

Near Threatened

Razorbills are black and white birds found along the coastline of the North Atlantic Ocean. Nesting occurs on seaside cliffs but most of their year is spent at sea.

These birds feed in the water on a range of fish species. Parents bring fish to their chicks as they grow. On each visit they may present up to 20 fish to the chick.

It is believed that the razorbill is currently the closest living relative of the now extinct great auk.

Razorbills are named for their beak which resembles a cut-throat razor.

Learn more about these brilliant birds by reading on below.

Appearance

The razorbill resembles the more familiar penguins in many elements of its appearance. This includes having black upperparts with a white underside. The black feathers continue across the entirety of the head. A white edge is present along the wing. The black color is stronger in birds which are breeding. A white stripe is present from the eye to the top of the bill.

In non-breeding individuals the throat and cheek are white with this coloration extending up to just behind the eye.

They have a large bill protruding from the head which is black except for a vertical white stripe near the tip.

At the end of the body is a rather long tail.

Adults measure 43cm (16.9in) long with a wingspan of 63-68cm (24.8-26.8in) across. An average weight for this species is 505-890g (17.8-31.4oz).

Diet


Razorbills are carnivores which feed on fish, marine worms and crustaceans.

Food is caught in the water. They primarily forage in the water but may also hover above and then dive in. Several fish may be caught in a single session.

On occasion they have been observed to steal their food from puffins and other types of auk.

Razorbill

Range

Razorbills are found along the edge of the Atlantic ocean with their range covering Europe, Africa, North America and Asia.

Habitat

Breeding takes place at sites on the Northern Atlantic coast on island, rocky shores and cliffs. Over winter they take to the sea with many moving south to find warmer climates.

These birds tend to remain close to the coastline.

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Reproduction

Pairs form for life and have a strong bond. The two will bond by touching bills and preening one another. Females may mate with other males outside of their pairing while their bonded mate cares for their eggs.

Nesting takes place on a cliffside or offshore rock stack. Razorbills often do not build a nest instead just depositing their eggs on to narrow ledges on these sites. If a nest is built it is formed from pebbles and grass.

They have a pear-shaped egg which helps to stop it rolling off. Eggs are colored white with brown spots. Despite these adaptations many legs are left each breeding season. Predators of eggs include gulls.

One egg is most common but on a rare occasion there may be two.

Both parents work together to incubate the eggs over the 32-39 day gestation period. After hatching they will both bring the chicks food. Parents may bring as many as 20 fish to the chicks on each visit. The chicks are brooded for 9-10 days after which they can maintain their own warmth.

Chicks leave the nest 14 to 25 days after they hatch. They will follow the adults to a cliff edge and flap down to the water as they can not yet fly.

Sexual maturity is reached between 4 and 5 years old.

Behavior

When swimming in the water they are often observed with their tail sitting vertically.

During winter these birds form flocks which can be found offshore. These may include a range of other species from the genus Uria.

Their vocalizations include low croaks or growls. At sea the chicks make a piping noise.

These birds will only come to the shoreline to breed. Outside of this they remain at sea.

Razorbill

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of these birds primarily target chicks and eggs. These may include mammals such as the red fox and birds such as the raven or gull.

Humans threaten the population of razorbills through overfishing, pollution and entanglement within nets. Their habit of living near the shoreline also leaves them vulnerable to oil spills. These affect their ability to feed and fly.

Climate change is believed to be leading to a decline in this species. This is due to rising temperatures which has reduced the availability of sandeels, one of their main food sources.

Large storms may prevent them feeding and can cause mortality in adults.

An emerging risk is collision with wind turbines.

In parts of their range they are threatened by introduced predators such as rats and mink.

Quick facts

The name of these birds comes from the shape of the bill which resembles a cut-throat razor.

Razorbills are thought to be the closest living relative of the now extinct great auk which was last sighted in 1852.

Razorbill

Photo Credits

Top and Middle One

Under License

Middle Two

Melissa McMasters from Memphis, TN, United States, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Bottom

neekoh.fi, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

References

The RSPB. 2021. Razorbill Bird Facts | Alca Torda – The RSPB. [online] Available at: <https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/razorbill/> [Accessed 1 June 2021].

Audubon. 2021. Razorbill. [online] Available at: <https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/razorbill> [Accessed 1 June 2021].

Wildlifetrusts.org. 2021. Razorbill | The Wildlife Trusts. [online] Available at: <https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/birds/seabirds/razorbill> [Accessed 1 June 2021].

BirdLife International. 2018. Alca torda. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T22694852A131932615. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22694852A131932615.en. Downloaded on 01 June 2021.

Lin, J. 2002. "Alca torda" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed June 01, 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Alca_torda/

Oiseaux-birds.com. 2021. Razorbill. [online] Available at: <http://www.oiseaux-birds.com/card-razorbill.html> [Accessed 1 June 2021].

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