Razorbill (Alca torda)

loading
Razorbill in flight
loading
Loading more images and videos...

Razorbill fact file

Razorbill description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderCharadriiformes
FamilyAlcidae
GenusAlca (1)

The handsome razorbill (Alca torda) has a characteristic deep, flattened (2), wedge-shaped (5) bill, which is black in colour with a white line. The underparts are white, and the black upperparts are darker than those of the similar guillemot (Uria aalge). Juveniles in their first winter have smaller and more pointed bills, which lack the white line seen in adults (2). This species is not particularly vocal, but a deep creaking 'urrr' is produced by breeding individuals (2). In Cornwall, an alternative common name for the razorbill is 'murre', which is probably imitative of this call (5). The scientific name Alca is thought to derive from the Icelandic word for this bird, Alka, which is thought to imitate another call of the razorbill, a harsh 'arrc-arrc' (5).

French
Petit Pingouin.
Size
Wingspan: 60-69 cm (2)
Length: 38-43 cm (2)
Top

Razorbill biology

Breeding colonies form in spring; each razorbill pair has a single brood consisting of one egg each year (2). The egg is laid in a crevice or hole, or a nest of pebbles (2). The young leave the breeding colony while still unfledged, at around 18 days after hatching and are looked after by the parents for some time (7).

In winter, the razorbill's diet is known to consist mainly of fish such as herring, whiting and sand eel, although crustaceans and worms are also eaten (6). Patterns of movement are complex, but it seems that birds in their first year travel further distances than adults (6).

Top

Razorbill range

Occurs in the North Atlantic; Britain is a stronghold (6). The razorbill breeds in internationally important numbers around the British coast. In combination, British and Irish totals represent around 20 percent of the world population (2).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.

See this species on Google Earth.

Top

Razorbill habitat

The razorbill inhabits both coastal and oceanic waters (3), and breeds on coastal cliffs and rock stacks in summer (3).

Top

Razorbill status

The razorbill is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (3). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List (medium conservation concern) (4).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

Top

Razorbill threats

The razorbill can be very seriously affected by oil pollution, and is particularly vulnerable when dispersing away from the breeding colonies (2). Other types of marine pollution, including heavy metals used in industry and organochloride pesticides used in agriculture are also threats and are known to cause deaths (2). Furthermore, food shortages, which may be caused by over-fishing, are a potentially serious problem (2).

Top

Razorbill conservation

Seabirds, including the razorbill, were among the first bird species given protection by legislation. A number of major seabird colonies are protected by the RSPB and other conservation organisations as nature reserves (8). Research into the ecology of seabirds, and the effects of the industrial fishing of sand eels on their populations is needed (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
Top

Find out more

For more information on the razorbill and other bird species:

Top

Authentication

Information authenticated by the RSPB:
http://www.rspb.org.uk/

Top

Glossary

Crustaceans
Diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
Top

References

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. Batten, L.A., Bibby, C.J., Clement, P., Elliot, G.D. and Porter, R.F. (1990) Red Data Birds in Britain. T & A Poyser, London.
  4. RSPB (2003) The population status of birds in the UK:
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/5_20625.pdf
  5. Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air; the names, lore and literature of British birds. Book Club Associates, London.
  6. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.
  7. Cramp, S. (1985) The birds of the western palearctic Vol. IV. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  8. RSPB (2003) Pers. comm.
X
Close

Image credit

Razorbill in flight  
Razorbill in flight

© Roger Powell / naturepl.com

Nature Picture Library
5a Great George Street
Bristol
BS1 5RR
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 117 911 4675
Fax: +44 (0) 117 911 4699
info@naturepl.com
http://www.naturepl.com

X
Close

Link to this photo

ARKive species - Razorbill (Alca torda) Embed this ARKive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to ARKive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about

X
Close

MyARKive

MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.

X
Close

Listen to the Razorbill

Razorbill in flight
Adobe Flash is required to play this recording

Razorbill recordings by Martha J. Fischer

© Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Macaulay Library
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Road
Ithaca
New York 14850
United States of America
Tel: +1 (607) 254-2404
Fax: +1 (607) 254-2439
Email: macaulaylibrary@cornell.edu
Website: www.birds.cornell.edu/MacaulayLibrary

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

This species is featured in:

This is a UK rocky shore species. Visit our habitat page to learn more.

This species is featured in:

This species is affected by global climate change. To learn about climate change and the species that are affected, visit our climate change pages.

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!

Blog