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Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Razorbill Raft

Hebrides bird sightings - Razorbills

Razorbill Raft

Alca torda

Gaelic: Coltraiche, Làmhaidh

Photography © Bob Medland
Shiant Islands - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
July, 2008

"We stayed on the Shiants for a week, ringing Puffins and others. ... we climbed up the cliff...it was quite a hairy climb at times but well worth it for the view. We went on over Garbh Eilean to ring Bonxie chicks and then down the northern slope of Airghean a' Bhàigh where the main Puffinery is and back along the boulder scree of Carnach Mhor...

Here's one showing the raft of Razorbills between Garbh Eilean and Eilean Mhuire. We watched the chicks tumble their way down the scree and across the beach and then paddling out to the wait flock of adults, all the time running the gauntlet of the gulls and Bonxies. Inevitably a number of them didn't make it. All very dramatic and nature in the raw."

(See Bob's photos of the view from the top of the island, and his other photos of the Shiants in our Island pictures section)


Our Razorbill photographs:

with puffins


  • Razorbill
  • Alca torda
  • Gaelic: Coltraiche, Làmhaidh
  • UK: Migrant/Resident Breeder, Winter Visitor. 164,000 birds (Summer) BTO . See from breeding cliffs & sea-watching points
  • WI: Abundant migrant breeder (10,000+ breeding pairs)
  • Breeding: Large colonies. Laying a single large egg on bare rock or ground. Islands, rocky shores & cliffs on North Atlantic coasts including Scotland. Also East North America. N &W Europe. NW Russia.
  • Winters: Eurasian birds winter in N Atlantic nr breeding grounds. Some head south to western Mediterranean.
  • Habitat: Coastal cliffs, otherwise at sea (pelagic) nr breeding grounds
  • Diet: Forages for food by swimming underwater. Fish, especially sandeels, sprats and herrings, some invertebrates
  • Medium-sized seabird (38-43cm length). Black above, white below. (In winter black face becomes white). Thick black, bill with blunt end. Pointed tail. Birds only come to shore to breed
  • Typical lifespan 13yrs. Max recorded age 14yrs 11mths
  • Listen to a Razorbill (RSPB site)
  • Similar birds Guillemot, Puffin


Both partners of a razorbill pair take turns about in foraging, and caring for the egg or young. Whilst the egg is incubating the non-sitting parent will forage to feed up to 35 miles to to sea, but when the egg hatches they forage much closer - up to 7 miles away.

Razorbills nest in large colonies. They lay a single large egg, the eggs all have different patterns to each other - it is thought that this is to help the parents identify their own egg.


The collective name for razorbills and other auks is a raft, colony, flock of auks.


Razorbill records in the Western Isles

Abundant migrant breeder (10,000+ breeding pairs)
Source: Outer Hebrides Bird Report (2001)

On the chart below the darker the shade of blue the more abundant the Razorbill is during a month or the more likely you are to see it.

























(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)


Other local bird photographs

Sources of information for the bird sightings section

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