Alca torda (Linnaeus, 1758) RA RAZOR 6360
Family: Charadriiformes > Alcidae

This striking bird, with its neat black and white breeding plumage, breeds in colonies alongside Guillemots and other seabirds.

Although the Razorbill shares a generally similar breeding distribution to Guillemot, absent only from those stretches of coast that lack suitable nesting cliffs, it has less exacting nest site preferences and occupies a slightly larger coastal range. Despite this, our Razorbill population is significantly smaller than that of Guillemot.

A significant proportion of the Razorbill population breeds here in Britain & Ireland, making our shores important in a global context.


Razorbill identification is usually straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Razorbill.

related video

Identifying winter Auks

Summer Auks, in breeding plumage, at the shore or near to their colonies are relatively easy to identify. But in autumn and winter we tend to see them flying rapidly past, far offshore, or bobbing around in heavy seas offering poor views. When you add to this that their distinctive breeding plumage and colouring is lost, winter Auks can be a serious challenge to identify and separate.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Razorbill, provided by xeno-canto contributors.


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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



The UK population increased by 40% between 1969–70 and Seabird 2000 (1998–2002). Annual counts from the Seabird Monitoring Programme suggest that numbers may have increased further since Seabird 2000, despite a shallow decrease during the first decade of the 21st century, although there are wide confidence intervals around these trends; data from the more recent Seabirds Count (2015–2021) should help confirm the recent trend once they are available (JNCC 2022).


Razorbills are largely pelagic in winter, yet were still reported around most of the coast of Britain & Ireland during Bird Atlas 2007–11. The breeding-season distribution is similar to that of the Guillemot, with breeding birds absent between Yorkshire and Dorset, where there is no suitable nesting habitat. The largest concentrations are from Flamborough Head to the Northern Isles and at many locations up the western seaboard of both Britain and Ireland.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2


Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Razorbills are recorded throughout the year, though more consistently during summer at suitable coastal breeding sites.

Weekly occurence of Razorbill from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Razorbill ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Razorbill, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.



View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Coltraiche
Welsh: Llurs
Catalan: gavot
Czech: alka malá
Danish: Alk
Dutch: Alk
Estonian: alk
Finnish: ruokki
French: Petit Pingouin
German: Tordalk
Hungarian: alka
Icelandic: Álka
Irish: Crosán
Italian: Gazza marina
Latvian: lielais alks
Lithuanian: alka
Norwegian: Alke
Polish: alka (zwyczajna)
Portuguese: torda-mergulheira
Slovak: alka vrúbkozobá
Slovenian: njorka
Spanish: Alca común
Swedish: tordmule
Folkname: Scout, Willock


Interpretation and scientific publications about Razorbill from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

Although the UK population of Razorbills show an increasing trend, there are concerns about very low breeding productivity, particularly during the first decade of the 21st century. Low productivity is believed to be linked to food supplies, particularly of sandeels Ammodtyes marinus, which may be linked to sea surface temperatures and hence climate change. As Razorbills typically live for 13 years and can live for up to 40 years, low productivity is an early warning sign which can be expected to lead to population declines over the medium- to long-term, provided other factors such as survival remain constant.

Links to more information from ConservationEvidence.com

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