Razorbills ©Mike Snelle


Scientific name: Alca torda
The razorbill has a characteristically thick, black bill, with a white stripe across it. It nests with other seabirds, such as guillemots, but prefers the lower ledges and rocky bottoms of cliffs and deep ravines.

Species information


Length: 39-43cm
Wingspan: 66cm
Weight: 710g
Average lifespan: 13 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Listed as Near Threatened on the global IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

When to see

March to July


The razorbill is a medium-sized auk that nests on ledges and among rocks at the bottom of cliffs. It feeds on fish which it catches by diving from the surface and swimming underwater. Usually searching for fish in the upper 20 metres of the sea, it can dive very deep and has even been spotted by a submersible operating hundreds of metres down. Only coming to shore to breed, on land it stands upright just like other auks.

How to identify

The razorbill is black above and white below, with a short, thick bill that has distinguishing white lines across the end. In winter, razorbills have white faces. The similar-looking guillemot is chocolate-brown in colour, and has a longer and thinner bill.


Nests on coastal cliffs in seabird colonies, particularly in Scotland and northern England. May be spotted offshore around the UK's coast at other times.

Did you know?

The razorbill's closest relative was the great auk, which became extinct in the UK in 1840 and was last sighted in 1852 off Newfoundland. It was hunted for meat, feathers, fat and oil, and as it became more scarce, was finally driven to extinction by specimen collectors.