razorbill



razorbill defined in 1930 year

razorbill - Razorbill;
razorbill - Upper parts greenish black; deep brown on the throat; under parts white. Length, seventeen inches.

The black and white razorbill, with curiously shaped massive beak, viewed sitting on a rock, its body inclined a little forward, may give us some idea of the great auk's appearance. It is less than half the size of the vanished bird, but is its nearest living representative. Throughout the year the razorbill is not an uncommon species in the seas that surround the British Islands, but is very much less abundant than the common guillemot, which it most nearly resembles in its habits. That it will become still less common than it is at present is greatly to be feared. For some time past it has been decreasing in numbers on all our coasts, from what cause is not accurately known. On this subject Howard Saunders writes: ' This may partly be owing to severe visitations of mortality which have from time to time affected many sea-birds, but especially the present species.' Whether killed by an epidemic to which they are liable, or starved to death, as some naturalists think, it is certain that they perish in large numbers. On the south coast I have seen their dead bodies, washed up by the waves during a severe gale, lying in hundreds on the beach; and the same distressing spectacle has been witnessed by others at various points on the coast.

The razorbill is a handsome species, with shiny white under- plumage, the black upper parts relieved by a stripe of pure white on the floats buoyantly like a duck. It feeds chiefly on small fishes, for which it dives, and when pursuing them uses the wings as well as feet in propulsion. On the sea the razorbills are usually seen in small flocks; they fly like diving ducks, with rapidly-beating wings, in a line, one bird head and a narrow white bar across the wing. The black, axe-like beak is also crossed in its deepest part with a white mark in the form of a crescent. Its life is mostly passed in the water, where it sits high and behind the other, and so close as to be almost touching. In March they resort to the bold headlands and precipitous rocky cliffs which are their breeding-places. They are then seen associating with guillemots and puffins; for, albeit these three auks differ in appearance and breeding-habits, they seem to be aware of their relationship, and mix together in a friendly way. It may, however, be noticed that on a ledge where many guillemots and a few razorbills are assembled, as a rule the latter form a little group by themselves. This species is somewhat silent, although they occasionally utter long cries, somewhat gull-like in character, but lower and more guttural. When disturbed they emit a different sound, peculiar and human-like in tone, resembling the low moans of a person in pain.

A single egg is laid by the razorbill, and is placed in a cranny, sometimes in a hole several feet deep; occasionally the egg is deposited in a hollow on a rocky ledge, and in such situations razorbills and guillemots are found breeding side by side. The egg is large and handsome, the ground-colour white, spotted and blotched with different shades of blackish and deep reddish brown, and sometimes chocolate-colour. Both birds take part in incubating. An observer who has studied the habits of this bird says that in most cases the young fly down to the sea, usually early in the morning, and being once there, do not return to the rocks, as their wings are not then strong enough to enable them to mount upwards. ' Sometimes,' he writes, ' when the young one is obstinate, the mother will take it by the back of the neck, and fly down to the sea. (Zoologist, 1871, p. 2427.)' He adds that the parent teaches the young bird to dive by taking it by the neck and diving with it.

The breeding season over, the birds do not return to the rocks until the next spring.

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