Razorbills

Alca tordaRazorbills (Alca torda).Alca torda“Razorbill” has in the past also been used as a name for Puffins and Murres/Guillemots. All of these birds are auks, of the family Alcidae. “Auk” comes from the Old Norse alka. The largest auk was the nearly 3-foot tall Pinguinus impennis, the now extinct Great Auk. Note that binomial: the penguins, Southern hemisphere birds which are unrelated but similarly flightless and superb swimmers, were named after the Great Auk. The big birds were exploited for food, feathers/down, oil, and bait. The last two confirmed breeding Great Auks were killed on Elday off Iceland in 1844. History records the names and words of the two humans who strangled the birds and the third who smashed the egg, but damned if I’ll mention them here. Ironically, museums in their desperation to get specimens before it was too late helped hunt the last Great Auks down. We also know what’s left: 78 skins, 75 eggs, 24 complete skeletons. Here’s one of the taxidermy specimens, in Philadelphia. Alca tordaRazorbills and the other extant auks can fly, but their wings are rather short and narrow.Alca tordaThis profile suggests what they really excel at: swimming. There are many fewer Razorbills breeding on Staple than Common Murres/Guillemots: in 2013, there were 75 breeding pairs compared to 12,942 pairs of Murres.Alca torda

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