Photo: Tony Smith/Flickr Creative Commons

Razorbill

Alca torda

This stocky, thick-billed auk is found only in the North Atlantic. It nests on northern islands and coasts, often in the same colonies as murres; similar to the murres, it has a longer tail, often cocked up above the water when swimming. In winter it lives in flocks well offshore. Hardy observers who go out to the coast during winter storms may see flocks of Razorbills sweeping past, low over the water. This species is probably the closest living relative of the extinct Great Auk.
Conservation status Far less numerous than the murres; world population in 1970s estimated at a little over 200,000. Distribution is mostly near shore, so is vulnerable to oil spills and other pollution. Thought to have declined in some areas recently, perhaps reflecting increasing pollution of North Atlantic.
Family Auks, Murres, Puffins
Habitat Open ocean; nests on sea cliffs. Tends to forage in cool waters less than 200' deep, so often concentrates over offshore shoals or ledges; sometimes closer to shore than other large auks. Nests on islands or mainland on cliffs or rocky shorelines.
This stocky, thick-billed auk is found only in the North Atlantic. It nests on northern islands and coasts, often in the same colonies as murres; similar to the murres, it has a longer tail, often cocked up above the water when swimming. In winter it lives in flocks well offshore. Hardy observers who go out to the coast during winter storms may see flocks of Razorbills sweeping past, low over the water. This species is probably the closest living relative of the extinct Great Auk.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • immature (1st winter)
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages while swimming underwater. Catches most food 5-20' below surface, rarely may dive to 30'. May catch several fish during one dive. Sometimes steals fish from puffins or other auks.


Eggs

1, perhaps rarely 2. Tan or greenish to white, variably marked with brown. Incubation is by both sexes, 32-39 days. Young: Both parents bring fish in bills to feed nestling. Young leaves nest 14-25 days after hatching, before able to fly. Late in evening, young follows adult to cliff edge and then flutters down to water, and adult and young swim away.


Young

Both parents bring fish in bills to feed nestling. Young leaves nest 14-25 days after hatching, before able to fly. Late in evening, young follows adult to cliff edge and then flutters down to water, and adult and young swim away.

Diet

Mostly fish. Feeds mainly on small fish, especially sand lance, also herring, sprat, capelin, stickleback, cod. Also eats crustaceans and marine worms.


Nesting

Usually first breeds at age of 4-5 years. Nests in colonies. May mate for life. Pair formation may take place within flocks on water or on common ground near colony. In display, male raises head, pointing bill up while giving growling call, then bows deeply; female sometimes does same. Members of pair also touch bills, preen each other's feathers. Nest site is in crevice in cliff, under boulders, on ledge, or in abandoned burrow of other species. Sometimes no nest built, usually small collection of pebbles, grass.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Winters well offshore, mainly from Grand Banks of Newfoundland to southern New England, in small numbers south to Virginia. Very rare south to Florida. Winter distribution varies, depending on food supply and weather. European birds may winter farther south, reaching northwest Africa.

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Migration

Winters well offshore, mainly from Grand Banks of Newfoundland to southern New England, in small numbers south to Virginia. Very rare south to Florida. Winter distribution varies, depending on food supply and weather. European birds may winter farther south, reaching northwest Africa.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Low croaks and growls.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Auks, Murres, Puffins Upright-perching Water Birds

Razorbill

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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