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.
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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.
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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 Will Reshape the Range of the Razorbill

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Razorbill

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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