Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

tags: , , , , ,

[Mystery bird] Razorbill, known in Finland as the Ruokki, Alca torda, photographed at Luonnontieteellinen keskusmuseo (University of Helsinki Museum of Natural History), Helsinki, Finland. [Fully feathered specimens]

Image: GrrlScientist, 18 May 2010 [larger view]

Canon SX100 IS.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

This mystery bird lacks all plumage hints that might give you clues as to its identity, but it is showing you plenty more hints that will guide you to your ID.

22 May 2010: 2 hints added (for everyone except Pete):

  1. This species occurs only in the north Atlantic Ocean.
  2. This species’ chicks are flightless when they fledge.

Review all mystery birds to date.


  1. #1 bardiac
    May 21, 2010

    Wow, that’s some problem diet!

    On a more serious note, this is a heavy looking bird, with robust legs. Does it only have three toes, or are we missing something? The legs lead me to think we’re looking at something that spends a lot of time on the ground.

    The wings are hard to tell from the angle and such.

    But the beak is very cool, and again robust. Seed sort of diet?

    The tail looks pretty minimal. I’m guessing NOT a peacock 🙂 doh. x2.

  2. #2 Pete Moulton
    May 21, 2010

    Well, I’ve got it down to the Family level, I think. If it’s the species I think it is, the white line crossing the bill would be a useful fieldmark. But I hasten to point out that if it’s what I think it is, I’ve never seen one in life, never having birded the North Atlantic.

  3. #3 John Callender
    May 21, 2010

    The first thing I thought was Dodo, but that’s clearly wrong. I’m looking forward to finding out what the answer is.

  4. #4 Practically Uninformed
    May 21, 2010

    I’m not 100% sure, but the odd lines on the beak seem to indicate that this creature is some kind of Auk.

  5. #5 Adrian
    May 21, 2010

    Could this be a malnourished Northern Penguin? I hope Pete Moulton does get to see one! As long as he e-mails me immediately, that is.

  6. #6 Jana
    May 21, 2010

    Ok here’s my reasoning (I love bird skeletons!)

    The balance of the body, with nice solid hips, and heavy leg bones, suggests a bird that spends a lot of time on the ground. This is supported by stubby wings (those bones are super-short) and the wussy clavicle-coracoid flight stabilization apparatus. My reasoning from this is that it’s flightless or nearly so.

    The beak and head shape are giving me family, with the watermarks on the beak identifying it as an extinct member of the family (I think). It’s not a penguin, but its genus name sure sounds like one.

  7. #7 Richard Simons
    May 21, 2010

    I am inclined to agree that it was the original penguin (pen gwyn = white head in Welsh). As I recall the (extant) alternative has a smaller head.

  8. #8 tenine
    May 21, 2010

    Is it a Flightless Auk?

  9. #9 bardiac
    May 21, 2010

    I’m probably confused, but I’m looking at the pictures of a Great Auk skeleton:

    and trying to compare those with a dodo skeleton:!Dodo-Skeleton_Natural_History_Museum_London_England.jpg&imgrefurl=

    (Sorry about the poor linkage).

    Anyway, for a great auk, the neck looks less long and less robust. And the body position looks wrong (though that might be a reconstruction problem).

    On the other hand, the feet don’t look nearly as robust on this skeleton (and the back toe I don’t see) as on the dodo skeleton example.

    Which is the long way around of saying I’m way more confused than I thought I was about this bird.

  10. #10 MK
    May 21, 2010

    Perhaps a skeleton of the extinct great auk? Particularly the beak matches quite well.

  11. #11 Pete Moulton
    May 21, 2010

    I’m not so sure. The sharply decurved tip to the upper mandible, the lack of a very obvious gonydeal angle, and that white bill marking all don’t look like the pictures I’ve seen of the Flightless One. The wings are stubby, yes, but so are the wings of all the members of this Family. The proportions are different. The FO has a fairly long humerus, and ulna/radius that are only about 2/3 as long as the humerus. This guy has a somewhat longer humerus and ulna/radius about the same length. I’m thinking this is the Sharp-billed One.

  12. #12 joshua
    May 22, 2010

    Looks like a Dodo to me.

  13. #13 pk1154
    May 22, 2010

    This bird is not extinct. This particular specimen is not looking too sharp, though.

    Like Pete Moulton I’ve never seen one myself, but I’m pretty sure I know what it is.

    This is the only extant species in the genus that gave the family it’s name.

    It’s named (in English) for that bill.

  14. #14 Jana
    May 22, 2010

    Interesting. Based on the hints, it’s the one I ruled *out* because of the bill markings. They seemed too complicated for what it actually apparently is. Postmortem changes?

    However, now that Bardiac dug up those Great Auk skeleton pics, he’s right, it really doesn’t look like one (that being my prior guess). The beak shape is wrong. The proportions of the pelvic limbs support a flying-underwater diver, not a foot-propelled diver, and the lack of reinforcement in the keel and coracoid supports a surface diver, rather than plunge diving. So, sharp-billed one it is. Huh.

  15. #15 Adrian
    May 22, 2010

    I think that the links from Bardiac do suggest that the bill is wrong for Great Auk. However the skull shown seems to be missing the horn part of the bill. Was GA like Puffin that loses the distinctive bill in winter? All the stuffed specimens shown in Google have a bill like our skeleton here.
    Of course a scale would solve the problem immediately!

  16. #16 Bardiac
    May 22, 2010

    So are we thinking a Razorbill now?

    I found some pictures of Razorbill skulls (because I’m in grading avoidance mode). Look here:

    The neck looks long, but to my inexperienced and untrained (at skulls) eye, they look pretty similar.

    (ps. Is it okay to post links to other sources?)

  17. #17 Adrian
    May 23, 2010

    OK Grrl, thanks for the hints.
    You’re right Pete, no need to e-mail me when you see one!

  18. #18 "GrrlScientist"
    May 23, 2010

    bardiac: it’s fine to post links to other sources. i will remove broken links (unless i can fix them) from comments and i occasionally will embed commenter’s links instead of leaving them hanging out there in the open, but i don’t have a problem with links.

  19. #19 Bardiac
    May 23, 2010

    This was a hard one for me, but I had lots of fun looking at skeleton pics. Thanks 🙂 I love these mystery birds.

New comments have been disabled.