Perhaps less revered than the charismatic puffins with whom they share their home, and somewhat less plentiful than the guillemots on Dun Cruit (The Harp Rock) are the fantastically characterful Treshnish Isles razorbills – every bit as dapper posing in the sun of a Lunga breeding season.
Razorbills (Alca torda) are members of the auk family and so are close cousins to the atlantic puffins and guillemots that frequent the burrows and cliff edges of Lunga in the Treshnish Isles. Breeding season for the razorbills is between May and July so these are the best times to visit to see them ashore on the islands.
An estimated 330 pairs breed each year in the Treshnish Isles. Although they are mainly to be found in the area around Harp Rock they also breed in smaller numbers on Sgeir a Chaisteil, Carnaburgh Beag and Fladda. These numbers represent a drop in breeding birds over the last twenty years and the razorbill’s UK conservation status remains designated ‘Amber’. The RSPB estimate that all together there are 130,000 breeding pairs around the coasts of the United Kingdom.
Although at a distance it is sometimes tricky to tell the difference between razorbills and the similarly sized guillemot, closer inspection reveals a very different bird. The razorbill is almost totally black in colour across its head, wings and back, as distinct to the guillemot’s brown plumage. It has a distinctive blunt, thick, black bill with a single white stripe along the top and another white stripe across the end which is easily seen when reasonably close. They can sometimes be seen to fly in squadron like formations which can also help identify them at a distance!
As with puffins, razorbills are monogamous, choosing one mate for life. The single egg is a creamy grey colour with dark brown blotches on it and takes around 35 days to hatch – a period where both male and female parent share the incubation, then clifftop parenting duties equally. It only takes around three weeks from hatching before the chick is ready to take to the sea, accompanied by its father.
They feed on mainly sandeels, herring and sprats, and can cover long distances in search of food during incubation, but less so once feeding their young. They can dive to depths of over 100m in search of food.