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A member of the auk family that can be found in small numbers amongst the guillemots on the Dorset coast in summer.

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

A fair number of guillemots nest along the Dorset coastal cliffs and, if you look carefully, amongst them you will find a lesser number of of their cousins, razorbills (Alca torda). They are not easy to get close to from the heights of the cliffs as they nest on the lower edges and this photograph I took is about as good a view as I have ever been able to get. It does show the two features, however, that enable you to pick them out from amongst the many guillemots.

Firstly, and usually the most obvious feature, is the razorbill's razor bill! The guillemot has a much more pointed bill whereas the razorbill has a much bigger, chunkier, awkward looking beak. The other feature, when the light is good, is that the razorbill is very much darker, almost black, on its back whereas the guillemot is chocolate brown.

The two species are both members of the Auk family (along with puffins of course) and they are often seen together and so obviously get on well together. In many ways they are the penguins of the northern hemisphere


Common Name Razorbill
Scientific Name Alca torda
Species Group Birds Shearwaters Petrels Auks and Cormorants
Status Local
Interest Level
  • 12 - December
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
Look for

Very dark guillemot like birds with stout bills

Identification Notes
  • Often seen in association with guillemots and do breed in small numbers along the cliffs of Dorset
  • Often seen floating on the water in small groups at the foot of cliffs
  • Has a darker back than the guillemot and has has a much heavier bill 
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Shearwaters Petrels Auks and Cormorants