BIRDS OF ICELAND : Alca torda, razorbill

Alca torda; like all auks razorbills are birds of seas and oceans. Their very characteristic heavy beaks with a vertical white streak on the beak and a white line running from the eye over the top of the beak easily distinguishes them from other auks. The shorter neck compared to the guillemot's make them look more stocky. They breed on cliffs all around Iceland. Like many other auks a female lays 1 egg only. In comparison to the guillemot's they lay their egg in rather protected spots like crevices. However they will also breed their egg on bare rock if necessary. The razorbills form looser breeding colonies than the guillemot's usually on higher parts of the cliffs which are usually shared by guillemot's. Razorbills breeding colonies can be found on sea cliffs from the Atlantic coast of France, the British isles, further north west to Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Norway and further north east to the Kola peninsula of northern Russia. However it is estimated that almost three quarter of the population breeds on Iceland! Outside the breeding season they can be found all over the eastern Atlantic from the northern Norway/Iceland to northern Africa, the North sea and Baltic sea.
From genetic research it has become apparent that the razorbill is more closely related to the dovekie and the extinct great auk and less so to the other auk species. It appears that a single radiation from the pacific (it is known that the auks originated from the pacific region) to the Atlantic led to the evolution of these three very distinct birds: the great auk a flightless large fishing bird, the dovekie a small sea bird also feeding on plankton and the intermediate razorbill.

A brief introduction to Iceland birds
Text & Photographs by Dick Vuijk
- unless stated otherwise
Other Auk-family members

Other auk-family species

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Natural History of Iceland Site  in Dutch

Natural History of Iceland Site  Dutch