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Overview

Brief Summary

Razorbills are expert swimmers and divers. Their short wings work just as well above water as under water. Diving down to 120 meter in search of lesser sandeel or other fish is no problem. In the air, they are true acrobats. They can flap their wings so quickly that you can't even follow it with the naked eye. This rapid wing movement allows them to fly low over the water surface and navigate between the waves.
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Biology

Breeding colonies form in spring; each pair has a single brood consisting of one egg each year (1). The egg is laid in a crevice or hole, or a nest of pebbles (1). 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 diet is known to consist mainly of fish such as herring, whiting and sand eel, although crustaceans and worms are also eaten (4). Patterns of movement are complex, but it seems that birds in their first year travel further distances than adults (4).
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Description

This handsome bird has a characteristic deep, flattened (1), wedge-shaped (3) 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 (1). This species is not particularly vocal, but a deep creaking 'urrr' is produced by breeding individuals (1). In Cornwall, an alternative common name for the razorbill is 'murre', which is probably imitative of this call (3). 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' (3).
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Distribution

Range Description

The species breeds on islands, rocky shores and cliffs on northern Atlantic coasts, in eastern North America as far south as Maine (U.S.A.), and in western Europe from north-westRussia to north-westFrance. North American birds migrate offshore and south, ranging from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland (Canada) to New England and New York (U.S.A.) (Nettleship 1996). Eurasian birds also winter at sea, with some moving south as far as the western Mediterranean and North Africa (Nettleship 1996, Merne and Mitchell 2004).
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North America; range extends from Greenland to North Carolina
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The Razorbills are found in boreal and sub-Arctic waters of the Atlantic. Razorbills are exclusively an Atlantic species, with no counterpart in the North Pacific. It breeds between 73 degree north and 43 degree north from Hudson Strait and west Greenland south to the Gulf of Maine, and from Iceland Jan Mayen, Bjornoya and northwest Russia (White Sea), south to Brittany and the Baltic Sea. During the winter they are mostly offshore in northern boreal water south to Long Island, Azores and western Mediterranean. Their breeding colonies can be found on sea cliffs of Canada, Maine, Greenland, Iceland, Jan Mayen, Faeroe Island, Britain, Ireland, Brittany, France, Helgland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Bjornoya, Kola Peninsula and White Sea. (Nettleship & Birkhead, 1985)

Biogeographic Regions: arctic ocean (Native ); atlantic ocean (Native )

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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Breeding

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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) BREEDS: Hudson Strait and western Greenland south to Gulf of Maine, and from Iceland, Jan Mayen, Bjornoya and northwestern Russia south to Brittany and the Baltic Sea. In the early 1980s, nested on four islands in Gulf of Maine (Maine, the only U.S. breeding sites) (Spendelow and Patton 1988). WINTERS: mostly offshore in northern boreal waters south to Long Island (New York), Azores, western Mediterranean (AOU 1983).

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North Atlantic, south to New York, England and Northwestern Europe sometimes south to Mediterranean.
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Range

Occurs in the North Atlantic; Britain is a stronghold (4). This species breeds in internationally important numbers around the British coast. In combination, British and Irish totals represent around 20% of the world population (1).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Razorbills are heavy-billed auks with an unusually long, rather graduated tail. During summer the head and the throat of adult Razorbills are black and dark chocolate brown. The under parts, including the under wing coverts, are white. There is a narrow white line extending forward from the eyes to the top of the bill. The gape is bright yellow and its iris is dark brown. Their legs and feet are black.

During winter the adult Razorbills are in their breeding plumage, but their throat, sides of neck, and face behind the eye are white. The vertical white line on the head and bill is less prominent.

The average weight for female Razorbills ranged from 505g to 730g. For males the weight ranged from 530g-720g. Average wing length for females ranged from 183mm-210mm. For males the wing length ranged from 182mm-206mm. (Wagner, 1999)

Range mass: 505 to 730 g.

Range wingspan: 182 to 210 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Size

Length: 43 cm

Weight: 719 grams

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Length: 40-45 cm, Wingspan: 63-66 cm
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
The species lives on rocky sea coasts, breeding on cliff ledges and under boulders in boreal or low Arctic waters (Nettleship 1996). The species is a pursuit diver that propels itself through the water with its wings. They are capable of diving to 120 m depth, but mostly forage nearer the surface. They spend most of their lives at sea, only arriving ashore to reproduce. This species has been described as coastal rather than pelagic (Huettmanet al. 2005), and birds tend to be concentrated within 10 km of the shore (BirdLife International 2000, Huettmanet al. 2005). They are known to consume Krill, Sprat Sprattus sprattus, Sandeels Ammondytes spp. and Capelin amongst other prey (Nettleship 1996).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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Depth range based on 34019 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 14894 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): -0.858 - 24.405
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.348 - 16.868
  Salinity (PPS): 5.715 - 35.801
  Oxygen (ml/l): 4.763 - 8.711
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.142 - 0.890
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.565 - 12.889

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): -0.858 - 24.405

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.348 - 16.868

Salinity (PPS): 5.715 - 35.801

Oxygen (ml/l): 4.763 - 8.711

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.142 - 0.890

Silicate (umol/l): 0.565 - 12.889
 
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Razorbill colonies occur on cliffs and offshore islands. They breed colonially in rocky, coastal regions on mainland cliffs and on offshore islands. In most areas breeding locations are situated in boulder screens or on cliff-faces in rock crevices or on ledges. Because the chicks cannot fly when they leave the colony, the breeding site must give immediate access to the sea. They feed in continental shelf waters, and usually feed rather close to shore than Common Murres (Uria aalge). Sometimes, Razorbills scatter among the Murres. (Gaston & Jone, 1998)

Habitat Regions: saltwater or marine

Aquatic Biomes: coastal

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Comments: Sea coasts and open sea. Nests on coastal cliffs and on rocky shores and islands, usually in crevice or niche or in holes between and under boulders (AOU 1983, Harrison 1978). Usually nests with murres (Terres 1980). Usually uses same nest site in successive years. Isolated islands free of quadruped predators seem essential for successful reproduction (Buckley and Buckley 1984).

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Depth range based on 34019 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 14894 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): -0.858 - 24.405
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.348 - 16.868
  Salinity (PPS): 5.715 - 35.801
  Oxygen (ml/l): 4.763 - 8.711
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.142 - 0.890
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.565 - 12.889

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): -0.858 - 24.405

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.348 - 16.868

Salinity (PPS): 5.715 - 35.801

Oxygen (ml/l): 4.763 - 8.711

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.142 - 0.890

Silicate (umol/l): 0.565 - 12.889
 
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Open sea and cliffs.
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Inhabits both coastal and oceanic waters (2), and breeds on coastal cliffs and rock stacks in summer (2).
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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Arrives in southern breeding areas (Maine) near end of February (Cowger 1976). Birds breeding in Labrador and Greenland migrate to Newfoundland and farther south (Brown 1985).

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Moves offshore to southern part of range in winter.
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Trophic Strategy

In general, adult Razorbills mainly feed on mid-water schooling fish: capelin, sandlance (Ammodytes), herrings (Clupea harengus), sprats (Sprattus sprattus), and juvenile cod. However, the species of the fish vary regionally. Adult Razorbills wintering off Newfoundland feed mainly on crustaceans. In Labrador the diet of adult Razorbills early in the season is largely capelin, but after the chicks hatch the adult take only some capelin but large numbers of small Myxocephalus sculpins and euphausiids. (Nettleship & Birkhead, 1985)

For the chicks, the parents usually bring one to six fish at a meal. Only occasionally do they bring up to 20 fish. Yet, the number of fish brought in a meal decreases as their size increases. The parents hold the fish crosswise in the bill to feed the chicks. Average length of fish brought to chicks varies in different regions. Sandlances that were brought to chicks in Irish Sea colonies were 53-79mm, yet, in Labrador they were 137mm. The diet of young Razorbills after they leave the colony is not known. (Nettleship & Birkhead, 1985)

Primary Diet: carnivore (Piscivore )

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Comments: Winter adult diet off Newfoundland mainly crustaceans, mainly fishes in Baltic. Summer adult diet in Labrador: capelin, sculpins, euphausiids. In southeastern Canada, chicks are fed fishes (mainly sandlance and capelin). Dives to at least 120 m (Piatt and Nettleship 1985).

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Mostly fish, will also consume marine worms and crustaceans.
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Associations

Razorbills are carnivores (eating vertebrates) that are also eaten by other carnivores.

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Most auk chicks are vulnerable to predation from gulls during fledging. Razorbill chicks fledging asynchronously, either fairly early in the morning or late in the evening, are not protected. Therefore, they were more likely to be killed by gulls than those fledging synchronously. In other words, Razorbill chicks fledging not at the same time/rate are easier prey for gulls. (Nettleship & Birkhead, 1985)

Razorbills provide relatively large nutritious eggs, high in fat, having larger yolks than those of most terrestrial birds, as a result, they are easily targeted by red fox, raven and other predators. (Gaston & Jones, 1998)

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 21 - 300

Comments: Many small colonies, but a major portion of the global population (over 200,000) nest in one large colony at western tip of Iceland.

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Global Abundance

>1,000,000 individuals

Comments: World population was estimated at about 700,000 pairs by Nettleship and Evans (1985). Censuses during the 1970s and early 1980s yielded about 15,000 pairs breeding in Canada/New England. See Evans (1984) for population data from Greenland.

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General Ecology

Annual adult survival in each of several areas was > 80%; usually 89% or more (Hudson 1985).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Cycle

Razorbill chicks hatch at a weight of about 60g, and weight is directly correlated with egg size. They spend about 18 days at the breeding site. Chicks leave the colony around 18-23 days after hatching. By that time they are only partly grown and still flightless. They weigh between 140g and 180g when they leave the colony. (Wagner, 1999)

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Life Expectancy

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
29.4 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
88 months.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 30.4 years (wild)
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Reproduction

Egg-laying for Razorbills start in the first week of May and laying continues until the first week of June. At higher latitudes, or where water temperatures are lower, laying is later. A female Razorbill can produce only one egg each season. Most breeding sites are enclosed or partially enclosed to protect the egg from predators. The single egg is usually laid directly on bare rock, but some parents would collect small stones, dried dropping, lichen or other bits of vegetation from the immediate surrounding area and place them where the egg will be laid. (Nettleship & Birkhead, 1985)

Before laying their eggs, at least half of the females leave their mates and sneak off to another ledge to copulate with other males. Then they come back and copulate with their mates on an average of 80 times in the 30 days before the laying of the first egg. Later, while their mates are safely occupied incubating their eggs, the females slip away again to the neighboring ledge for more copulation. The couplings are like auditions to see who is better and are probably important in pair formation. (Carely, 1993)

Range eggs per season: 1 (high) .

Average eggs per season: 1.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Average time to hatching: 36 days.

Average eggs per season: 1.

Incubation for some happens immediately after laying. Parents exchange incubation duty several times a day. After the chick hatched the parents would feed the chick with fish up to 20 fish at a time, but they usually bring one to six fish at a meal. (Nettleship & Birkhead, 1985)

Parental Investment: male parental care ; female parental care

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Eggs are laid in May in Maine, June where seas are colder. Clutch size is 1. Incubation, by both sexes, averages 35-37 days. Single young is tended by both sexes, leaves for sea at average age of 17-19 days, tended by male for several weeks. In Wales, first breeds at 4-5 years.

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First breeds at 4-5 years old. May mate for life. Nesting colonies on cliffs and rocky coastline. 1 egg, incubated by both sexes for 32-39 days. Young fed whole food by both parents.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Alca torda

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 11 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

GGCACCCTGTATCTGATCTTTGGCGCATGAGCCGGCATAGTTGGTACTGCCCTA---AGCCTACTTATCCGCGCAGAACTAGGCCAACCAGGGACCCTCCTAGGAGAC---GACCAAATCTACAACGTAATCGTCACCGCCCATGCCTTCGTAATAATCTTCTTCATAGTTATGCCAATCATAATCGGCGGCTTCGGAAACTGATTAGTCCCACTTATA---ATCGGTGCACCCGACATAGCATTTCCTCGCATAAACAATATAAGCTTCTGACTACTACCCCCATCATTCTTACTCCTTCTAGCCTCATCTACAGTAGAAGCTGGAGCTGGTACAGGATGAACTGTTTACCCTCCCCTAGCTGGCAACCTAGCCCATGCCGGAGCTTCAGTAGATCTA---GCAATCTTCTCTCTCCACTTAGCAGGTGTATCCTCCATCCTAGGTGCTATCAACTTTATCACAACAGCCATCAATATAAAACCCCCAGCCCTTTCACAGTACCAAACCCCATTATTCGTATGATCAGTACTTATCACTGCTGTCTTACTACTTCTCTCACTTCCAGTACTCGCCGCT---GGCATTACCATGCTACTAACAGACCGAAACCTAAACACCACATTCTTCGATCCAGCCGGAGGCGGCGATCCAGTACTATACCAACACCTCTTCTGATTCTTCGGCCACCCAGAAGTATATATCCTAATTCTACCAGGTTTCGGAATTATCTCTCACGTCGTAACGTACTATGCAGGAAAAAAA---GAACCATTCGGATACATAGGAATAGTATGAGCTATACTATCCATCGGCTTCCTAGGCTTCATCGTATGAGCCCATCACATATTTACCGTAGGAATAGATGTGGATACCCGAGCCTACTTCACATCTGCCACTATAATCATTGCTATTCCTACTGGCATCAAAGTATTTAGCTGACTA---GCCACA
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Alca torda

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 11
Specimens with Barcodes: 12
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
NT
Near Threatened

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2015

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Symes, A.

Contributor/s
Bourne, W. & Gudmundsson, G.

Justification
This species has undergone moderate declines in Europe, including very rapid declines in Iceland since 2005. Crashes in sandeel stocks around Iceland may be a contributing factor in the declines. The species has therefore been uplisted to Near Threatened as it almost meets the requirements for listing as threatened under criterion A4ab.

History
  • 2012
    Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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