Alca torda 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Aves Charadriiformes Alcidae

Scientific Name: Alca torda Linnaeus, 1758
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Razorbill
French Petit Pingouin
Spanish Alca común
Taxonomic Source(s): Cramp, S. and Simmons, K.E.L. (eds). 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Identification information: 37-39 cm.  Black upperparts, tail, wings and head which contrast with white underparts.  Blackish legs.  Thick black bill with broken transverse white line across both mandibles and prominent white line extending from base of culmen to eye (Nettleship 1996).  In winter, birds have white throat, cheeks and ear-coverts and no horizontal white line on bill.  Juvenile similar to winter adult.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2017
Date Assessed: 2016-10-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S. & Symes, A.
Contributor(s): Bourne, W. & Gudmundsson, G.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Ekstrom, J., Hatchett, J., Tarzia, M, Wheatley, H., Ieronymidou, C., Ashpole, J, Burfield, I., Pople, R. & Wright, L
This species has undergone moderate declines in Europe, including very rapid declines in Iceland since 2005.  Crashes in sandeel stocks around Iceland may be a contributing factor in the declines.  The species has therefore been uplisted to Near Threatened as it almost meets the requirements for listing as threatened under criterion A4ab.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The species breeds on islands, rocky shores and cliffs on northern Atlantic coasts, in eastern North America as far south as Maine (U.S.A.), and in western Europe from north-west Russia to north-west France. North American birds migrate offshore and south, ranging from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland (Canada) to New England and New York (U.S.A.) (Nettleship 1996).  Eurasian birds also winter at sea, with some moving south as far as the western Mediterranean and North Africa (Nettleship 1996, Merne and Mitchell 2004).
Countries occurrence:
Belgium; Canada; Denmark; Estonia; Faroe Islands; Finland; France; Germany; Gibraltar; Greenland; Iceland; Ireland; Latvia; Lithuania; Morocco; Netherlands; Norway; Poland; Portugal; Russian Federation (European Russia); Saint Pierre and Miquelon; Spain; Svalbard and Jan Mayen; Sweden; United Kingdom; United States
Algeria; Austria; Croatia; Czech Republic; Egypt; Hungary; Italy; Japan; Malta; Mauritania; Montenegro; Serbia; Slovenia; Tunisia
Additional data:
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:17000000
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):UnknownExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Continuing decline in number of locations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:No
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:The European population is estimated at 979,000-1,020,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015).

Trend Justification:  Although a number of populations are increasing within Europe, a recent sharp decline was observed in Iceland (where more than 60% of the European population is found) since 2005 (BirdLife International 2015).  Two comprehensive surveys of the species in Iceland suggest that the population declined by 18% between 1983-1986 (Gardarsson 1995) and 2005-2009 (Gardarsson et al. in press) from 378,000 pairs to 313,000 pairs.  However more frequent monitoring of a subset of colonies (every five years) between 1985 and 2005 suggests the population decline only started in 2005 and prior to this the population was stable, demonstrating that the decline has been much more rapid.  Evidence of a very rapid decline in the Icelandic population is supported by data from the largest colony of this species in the world, Látrabjarg, which declined by 45% in only three years (160,000 pairs in 2006 to 89,000 pairs in 2009) (G. Gudmundsson in litt. 2015).  The 2005 decline occurred around the same time that sandeel stocks crashed around Iceland, suggesting that a lack of food may have influenced the decline (Gardarsson et al. in press).  As a result of the reported decline in Iceland, the estimated and projected rate of decline of the European population size over the period 2005-2046 (three generations) is 25-30%.

The population trend is increasing in North America (based on BBS/CBC data: Butcher and Niven 2007).  Europe is thought to hold c. 95% of the global population, based on latest population estimates (Merne and Mitchell 2004, Berglund and Hentati-Sundberg 2014).  Thus the European decline is of global significance.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:No
Continuing decline in subpopulations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:The species lives on rocky sea coasts, breeding on cliff ledges and under boulders in boreal or low Arctic waters (Nettleship 1996).  It is a pursuit diver that propels itself through the water with its wings. Razorbills are capable of diving to 120 m depth, but mostly forage nearer the surface.  They spend most of their lives at sea, only arriving ashore to reproduce.  This species has been described as coastal rather than pelagic (Huettman et al. 2005), and birds tend to be concentrated within 10 km of the shore (BirdLife International 2000, Huettman et al. 2005).  They are known to consume Krill, Sprat Sprattus sprattus, Sandeels Ammondytes spp. and Capelin amongst other prey (Nettleship 1996).
Systems:Terrestrial; Marine
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Unknown
Generation Length (years):13.6
Movement patterns:Full Migrant
Congregatory:Congregatory (and dispersive)

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): This species is threatened by the current and future impacts of climate change, including temperature extremes, sea temperature rises and shifts and reductions in prey availability (Sandvik et al. 2005).  A crash in sandeel stocks around Iceland is thought to have contributed to the very rapid population decline of Razorbill in Iceland (Gardarsson et al. in press).  The species is vulnerable to extreme weather, with severe winter storms causing large scale mortality across north-western Europe in the past (Underwood and Stowe 1984). 

As a pursuit diver the species is at risk from being caught in gillnets and driftnets, with gillnet fisheries in the North and Baltic Seas known to catch significant numbers (Žydelis et al. 2009, 2013, Skov et al. 2011).  Overfishing of important prey species in the Gulf of St Lawrence, east Newfoundland and Grand Banks, Georges Bank, North Sea and Barents Sea is also a threat (Nettleship 1996).  As the species spends much of its life at sea, including at and below the sea surface, it is vulnerable to both chronic oil pollution and oil spill events.  Offshore renewable energy, such as wind farms are also likely to pose a threat to this species, including through habitat displacement (Furness et al. 2013) and collision, although collision risk is currently considered low (Bradbury et al. 2014).  Disturbance from shipping lanes and marine constructions occurs in coastal and offshore areas with high human presence, and habitat degradation at sea from mining and aggregate extraction also threatens this species. 

On land during its breeding season this species is exposed to invasive mammalian predators (e.g. rats, cats, American Mink Neovison vison), which could increase in severity as climate change allows their northward movement.  The species is also vulnerable to disturbance from recreational and tourism activities.  Unregulated hunting in Labrador, the Gulf of St Lawrence, Newfoundland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Norway poses a major threat (Nettleship 1996, Thorup et al. 2014).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation and Research Actions Underway
The species is listed on the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement. There are 91 Important Bird Areas across the region for this species. Within the EU there are 91 Special Protected Areas for this species, recognised as a regularly occurring migratory species. The species is considered in the Nordic Action Plan for seabirds in Western-Nordic areas (TemaNord 2010). 

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Establish international monitoring system (Nettleship 1996). Continue to identify important sites for this species, particularly in offshore regions and designate as marine protected areas. Identify the risks of different activities on seabirds, and locations sensitive to seabirds. Continue eradication of invasive predators from breeding colonies. Manageme fisheries to ensure long-term sustainability of key stocks (e.g. sandeels). Establish observer schemes for bycatch and prepare National/Regional plans of action on seabird bycatch. Develop codes-of-conduct for more organised activities (e.g. tourism). Ensure that appropriate protection (national laws and international agreements) applies to new areas and times in case of changes in seabird migration routes and times.

Amended [top]

Amended reason: Edited Rationale, Habitats and Ecology, Conservation Actions, Threats, Population Trend, Geographic Range, and Identification Description Information text.

Citation: BirdLife International. 2017. Alca torda (amended version of 2016 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22694852A110637027. . Downloaded on 26 May 2018.
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