1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Razorbill

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RAZORBILL, or Razor-billed Auk, known also on many parts of the British coasts as the Marrot, Murre, Scout, Tinker or Willock—names which it, however, shares with the Guillemot (q.v.) and to some extent with the Puffin (q.v.)—a common sea-bird of the North Atlantic,[1] resorting in vast numbers to certain rocky cliffs for the purpose of breeding, and returning to deeper waters for the rest of the year. It is the Alca torda of Linnaeus[2] and most modern authors, congeneric with the Gare-fowl (q.v.), if not with the true Guillemots, between which two forms it is intermediate—differing from the former in its small size and retaining its power of flight, which that extinct species had lost, and from the latter in its peculiarly-shaped bill, which is vertically enlarged, compressed, and deeply furrowed, as well as in its elongated, wedge-shaped tail. A fine white line, running on each side from the base of the culmen to the eye, is in the adult bird in breeding-apparel (with rare exceptions) a further characteristic. Otherwise the appearance of all these birds may be briefly described in the same words—head, breast and upper parts generally of a deep glossy black, and the lower parts and tip of the secondaries of a pure white, while the various changes of plumage dependent on age or season are alike in all. In habits the razorbill agrees closely with the true guillemots, laying its single egg (which is not, however, subject to the same variety of coloration as in the guillemot) on the ledges of cliffs, but it is said as a rule to occupy higher elevations, and when not breeding to keep farther out to sea. On the east side of the Atlantic the Razorbill has its breeding stations from the North Cape to Brittany, besides several in the Baltic, while in winter it passes much farther to the southward, and is sometimes numerous in the Bay of Gibraltar, occasionally entering the Mediterranean, but apparently never extending east of Sicily or Malta. On the west side of the Atlantic it breeds from 70º N. lat. on the eastern shore of Baffin's Bay to Cape Farewell, and again on the coast of America from Labrador and Newfoundland to the Bay of Fundy, while in winter it reaches Long Island.  (A. N.) 

  1. Schlegel (Mus. des Pays-Bas, Urinatores, p. 14) records an example from Japan; but this must be in error.
  2. The word Alca is simply the Latinized form of this bird's common Teutonic name, Alk, of which Auk is the English modification. It must be therefore be held to be the type of the Linnaean genus Alca, though some systematists on indefensible grounds have removed it thence, making it the sole member of a genus named by Leach, after Aldrovandus (Ornithologia, bk. xix. chap. xlix.), Utamania—an extraordinary word, that seems to have originated in some mistake from the no less extraordinary Vuttamaria, given by Belon (Observations, i. c. xi.) as the Cretan name of some diving bird, which could not have been the present species.