Tuesday 21 May
Razorbill (Alca torda)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Razorbill fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
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).
- Petit Pingouin.
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
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).Top
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).Top
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
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).Top
Find out more
For more information on the razorbill and other bird species:Top
Information authenticated by the RSPB:
- 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.
IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
- Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
- 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.
RSPB (2003) The population status of birds in the UK:
- Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air; the names, lore and literature of British birds. Book Club Associates, London.
- Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.
- Cramp, S. (1985) The birds of the western palearctic Vol. IV. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- RSPB (2003) Pers. comm.
More »Related species
Play the Team WILD game
This species is featured in:
This is a UK rocky shore species. Visit our habitat page to learn more.
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.
Listen to the Razorbill
Razorbill recordings by Martha J. Fischer
© Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Road
New York 14850
United States of America
Tel: +1 (607) 254-2404
Fax: +1 (607) 254-2439