The Razorbilled Bird; Alca Torda Torda and Alca Torda Islandica, Facts and Pictures

by HollieT

Discover some interesting facts about the Razorbilled bird, including information about the two sub species; Alca Torda Torda and Alca Torda Islandica.

During a recent trip to New Quay, South West Wales, I was tempted by a bill board I'd spotted in the harbour offering boat trips around the bay, with the intention of spotting dolphins, pourposies and seals. It was during this boat trip that I first came across the most intriguing of birds; the Razorbilled bird.

The noise from the diesel engine of the boat could not drown the sonics from the curious avian life circling us. Initially, I was under the impression that the birds bobbing on the surface of the water were ducks, that is, until I noticed that some of them were literally diving into the water and remaining beneath the surface for quite some time.

A group of Razor Bill birds basking in the Sun. South West Wales.

Razor Billed birds off the coast of New Quay, South West Wales.
Razor Billed birds off the coast of New Quay, South West Wales.
Hollie Thomas.

Alca Torda Islandica and the Alca Torda Torda.

The Razorbill is a seabird of medium size, with both black and white plumage and quite distinct white stripes which run from the eyes to the beak. When swimming on the sea, the Razorbill is known to swim like a duck; with tail cocked upwards enabling them to tip forwards and "dip" for food.

There are two sub-species of the Razorbill; the Alca Torda Islandica and the Alca Torda Torda. The Alca Torda Islandica can be found in North Western France and in the many coastal areas of the British Isles. The Alca Torda Torda can be found off the White and Baltic seas, Northeastern America, Greenland and Norway.

The only notable differences between the two sub-species is a slight difference in wing and bill length. The Islandica species being the smallest.

Razor Bill
Ad AllPosters
A Painting of Razor-Billed Auks and Murres
Ad AllPosters

Diving and fishing.

The razorbill has quite short wings for a seabird which normally range between 37-39 cm. Because of this, the Razorbill can "fly" as effectively underwater as it can in the air.

In fact, this bird can dive to depths of more than 40 feet when fishing, and is able to stay beneath the surface of the water for more than one minute. Emerging itself beneath the sea in this way, also helps the bird to evade large wing predators such as Seagulls and Ravens.

Typically, the species will feed on sand eels, worms, herring, cod, molluscs and sprats. Adept at fishing, this sea bird will spend almost fifty percent of it's time hunting for food.

The Razorbill is an 'expert' when it comes to underwater swimming.

Razorbill courtship; A love story.

Razorbills come into the coast during the spring to form breeding colonies. The selection regarding breeding partners is made by the female, she definitely wears the pants so to speak.. Nevertheless, she can be quite the temptress and will often flirt with a number of admiring males before making the ultimate decision. However, once she has made her decision, the birds will stay together for life.

During courtship rituals, the birds will affectionately touch bills and also follow one another in flight. In order to maintain the strength of their bond, Razorbills are known to engage in courtship rituals on many occasions during the breeding season. There's nothing like keeping the romance alive!

Despite the birds lifelong attachment, however, the relationship is not completely monogamous. During the breeding season the female will often mate with other males to ensure successful fertilisation.

Nesting and reproduction.

The Razorbill does not make a nest in the conventional sense because they lay their eggs in crevices within the rocks or on ledges.

Hiding their eggs in rock crevices enables the bird to protect the yet to hatch infants from predators. The birds will, however, layer the rock space with mud and seaweed.

Breeding season is from May to July and the birds will breed in caves, and quite precariously on the edge of rocks.

Although it is near impossible to distinguish between the male and female species by plumage alone, the female is slightly smaller.

Interestingly, the white stripe which runs from the eyes and down to the bill, becomes much more prominent during the breeding season.

Razorbills nesting on the ledges of rocks.

A breeding colony of Razorbills, South West Wales.
A breeding colony of Razorbills, South West Wales.
Hollie Thomas

Razorbills are committed parents, too.

The breeding season is relentless for would be parents. In fact, the birds will mate up to a total of 80 times during 30 days. The male of the species will fiercely protect the female from other males by pushing them away with his bill.

The females will only lay one egg per year, which is conical in shape, and prevents the egg from rolling off the ledges of the rocks.

Incubation of the egg occurs within two days of laying and will be incubated equally by both the male and the female. The chick will hatch roughly thirty days after incubation.

Either one of the parents will remain with the chick at all times whilst the other goes to collect food.

Between day eighteen and twenty four, the male parent will accompany the young Razorbill out to sea.

A Proud father leads his offspring out to sea.

Updated: 02/28/2013, HollieT
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


HollieT on 01/23/2013

Hi Katie,

You're welcome. I'd actually never even heard of these birds before I saw them in South Wales- I love the way the birds stay together for life too- a love story! :)

katiem2 on 01/23/2013

I've always been an admirer of birds. What amazing creatures. Thanks for bringing a new bird to my list. :)K

HollieT on 12/23/2012

Hi Sharon,

I hadn't even heard of these birds until I'd taken the boat trip. They are amazing, you should see them dive for food. I hope you are your grandchildren were able to spot some yesterday.

Sharon Foust on 12/22/2012

I first heard office these from a patient who is a wild life the southern Tampa bay region of Florida. He said there have been over 200 sittings of these birds just since December 1st as far south as Miami.
My grandchildren and I are going out to Anna Maria pier this afternoon to see if we can spot any

HollieT on 12/19/2012

Thanks Ragtimelil. I enjoyed learning more about the Razorbill.

Ragtimelil on 12/19/2012

Very interesting! Thanks for this article.

You might also like

The Cassowary Bird: Facts, Attacks, Pictures and Reproduction

Discover some interesting facts about the endangered Cassowary bird. See foot...

Rusty Blackbird - How to Save This Vulnerable Species

Ecology and conservation issues associated with the Rusty Blackbird, Euphagus...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...