If you’re a similar age to me (let’s just say I remember the Mister Men books when Mr Small was one of the new ones) and also had a primary school teacher who liked sharing amusing riddles which were plays on the names of animals and birds (such as ‘Why did the Owl ’owl? Because the Woodpecker would peck ’er), then you might also remember this one.

Why did the Razorbill raise ’er bill?
To let the Sea Urchin see ’er chin.

The Razorbill, along with the Guillemot and the much more well known Puffin, is a member of the Auk family of birds – relatives of the extinct flightless Great Auk, that was hunted to extinction in the 19th century. Unlike the Great Auk, the Razorbill, as well as its surviving relatives, can fly very well. This enables them to nest on rocky ledges high up on steep sea cliffs. The nesting season, between March and late July, is the best time to see this smart black and white bird with its distinctive white-lined bill, although it will usually necessitate a visit to a coastal seabird colony, many of which are fairly remote. A small number do breed on Teesside, around Saltburn and other nearby cliffs, and they can often be seen on the sea from the end of Saltburn Pier.

“March to July is usually the best time to see this smart black and white bird, but this year seems to be different. For several days in mid-September, birdwatchers have been seeing Razorbills in unusual places and unheard of numbers…”

Outside the breeding season, Razorbills are much harder to see as they spend most of their time out to sea where they catch the small fish that form the bulk of their diet. Sharp-eyed birders, with telescopes and lots of patience, will pick them out as they fly up and down the coast just off-shore.

This year however, seems to be different. For several days in mid-September, birdwatchers have been seeing them in unusual places and unheard of numbers – hundreds on the sea at Seal Sands and Seaton Snook, but also smaller numbers on Greatham Creek, Middlesbrough Dock and going up the Tees as far as the Stockton Barrage. Although this is great for birdwatchers, who get to see them up close, it may not be good for the birds, which may be behaving unusually because of shortages of food in their fishing grounds, with this possibly being connected to climate change. As much as I enjoy seeing this beautiful bird up close, I really hope this isn’t the case.