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Species Description

Black Skimmer

Rynchops niger


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Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Laridae

Description

Most of the upper parts are black, and the under parts are white. The bill is red, with a black tip. The lower portions of the face are white. The outer tail feathers are white, and the inner feathers are black. 46 cm (18 in) in length; 112 cm (44 in) wingspan. The bill is distinctive, with the lower mandible being larger than the upper. While in low flight, the Black Skimmer hangs its lower mandible in the water to forage.

Life Cycle

The breeding season begins in early May and lasts through mid-August. Skimmers nest on beaches or sandy islands. The nest is a scrape created by both the male and female. The female lays 3-5 (usually 4) eggs that both adults incubate for 21-23 days. The young are semi-precocial and are cared for by both adults for 23-25 days after they hatch. The young have mandibles of equal length when they are young, which helps them pick up insects and food from the adults. The young gain their unequal mandible length when they are old enough to forage on their own.

Natural History

In winter, most of this bird's time is spent resting on the beaches of the coast or skimming over the water. When a food item is found, the Black Skimmer "nods" its head to close the prey in its bill. It eats fish, aquatic invertebrates, and crustaceans. When a young Black Skimmer is frightened, it may dig a small shallow depression in the sand, which it hides in, kicking sand up over its back to camouflage itself.

Range

Black Skimmer Region Map The Black Skimmer is found along the coastal United States during the breeding season and in the southern coastal areas all year.

Conservation Status

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the collection of skimmers and other sea birds for millinery purposes (using the birds and/or their feathers for hats) caused a decline in this species abundance. With the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, this species has rebounded. A Black Skimmer nesting colony is also sensitive to human disturbance and this can reduce the birds' reproductive success. This species is not listed as Threatened or Endangered in the Southeast.

Similar Species

The Black Skimmer is the only bird species in the United States that has a larger lower mandible than upper mandible.