Razorbill

Alca torda

37-39cm

Appearance

In comparison to the Guillemot, the Razorbill is marginally smaller, but its neck is proportionately thicker, its head and bill larger, wings smaller and its tail longer. The Razorbill appears blacker than the Guillemot when flying. The black bill is flattened laterally, with a white vertical line near the tip. The head, neck and upperparts are black, the underparts are white, and there's a distinct white wingbar. Winter plumage is similar to summer, but the face become partly white on the throat and cheeks, and the bill is slightly smaller. Juveniles are smaller and more brown than adult birds. They have a dark head and the bill is marginally smaller.

Habitat

Is at sea unless in breeding season, keeping within Europe's continental shelf; healthy birds are seldom seen close to land. Nesting takes place on rocky coasts, amongst boulders or high on cliffs.

Character

Breeding takes place on cliffs, but Razorbills are less conspicuous and in smaller numbers than the Guillemot. Flocks may form in winter, and it flies low over water, its wingbeats making a whir. Can make deep dives and may carry 2 or 3 fish at once.

Food

Diet consists mainly of fish, particularly sand eels, sprats and small herring, and some marine crustaceans.

Breeding

One egg is laid in May, and both parents incubate for about 36 days. Hatchling is tended to by both adults until at 18 days, it makes its way to the sea, only two-thirds grown. The male remains with the chick at sea.

Population

Razorbills depart their colonies in July and make their way out to the ocean. Adults return to breeding sites from March, but juveniles may travel further and do not return for 2-3 years. Numbers of this species are difficult to determine, but it's estimated that 130 000 pairs breed in the UK and 17 400 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

While they may not be the largest in number on seabird cliffs, the Razorbill tends to stand out; when not busy at their nest, they may find a cliff perch nearby. Shetland and Orkney are known locations for Razorbills, and in June or July, the birds are sometimes seen returning to the cliffs after hunting, their bills loaded with small fish.

Voice

Mostly a quiet bird, but juveniles have a rather mournful whistle, and adults croak 'caarrrr' when close to nests.
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