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New England Seabirds


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Atlantic Puffin



Black Guillemot



Seabirds - Alcids




Alca Torda


Razorbills by Etarry

Two Razorbills photographed on Machias Seal Island by ETarry.  Notice the pointed margin (not rounded) between the white breast and the black throat.

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Range and Habitat
The Razorbill is restricted to the north Atlantic Ocean and ranges on both the North American side and the European side. Razorbills prefer ice free water and breed in small colonies on rocky islands surrounded by deep clear water. Harrison (1983) recognizes three subspecies not seperable at sea.

According to Ian L. Jones writing in Sibley (2001), the Razorbill   " is the rarest North American Atlantic auk...".  This was surprising to me, because in winter it is the most common Alcid to be seen flying from shore.

Identification Breeding Adult
The Razorbill is a large, handsome bird with a distinctive bill. There is a vertical white line that rings the end of the bill and a white horizontal line from the base of the bill to the eye. Otherwise the head is all black. Back is also black except for white flanks seen in flight. The upper wing is all black except for a white trailing edge along the secondary flight feathers. The lining of the mouth is bright yellow. Feet and legs black.

Razorbill breeding identification characteristics by Leonard Medlock

Breeding Razorbills showing yellow lining to the mouth which shows up better in top right picture.   Picture of flying bird on the right shows the white trailing edge to the inner wing which shows up in the standing bird.


Mating and Nesting
Razorbills like most seabirds nest in small colonies usually on rocky ledges. Paired individuals meet up at the nest site early in the spring after spending the winter away from each other feeding on the ocean. They carry out a mating display on the water which includes bill pointing and bill fencing. These mating rituals may be designed to bring both partners into breeding condition at the same time. ( Freethy1987).

Razorbill lay eggs on rocky ledges by Leonard Medlock

Razorbills prefer to nest on a broad rock ledge under an overhang and one high enough to avoid splash from waves below.

Eggs may be laid in a scrape in the rock and usually without any nesting material. The birds do bring stones into the nest space.

Usually only one egg is laid per season although occassionally two are laid. If the egg is lost a second egg may be laid.

Some Razorbills nest at the end of natural tunnel-like crevices.

Pairs breed together for several years if not for life.

Photo to the left by Leonard Medock. We don’t know if the hole has anything to do with a nest.

In winter plumage, the Razorbill has a white patch behind the dark eye and loses the white face line. The bill is all black and smaller than in breeding plumage.

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Seabirds | Alcids | Puffin | Razorbill | Murres | Dovekie| BlackGuillemot                                                                             

Freethy, Ron (1987 Auks An Ornithologist’s Guide Facts On File Publications New York

Harrison, Peter (1983) Seabirds an identification guide Houghton Mifflin Company; Boston

Sibley, David (2000) The Sibley Guide to Birds Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Sibley, David (2001) The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior Alfred A. Knopf, New York