SIB “Bird of the Week” – Black Skimmer

Black SkimmerRynchops niger
Length: 18″; Wingspan: 44″; Weight: 11 oz.

A "conspiracy" of Black Skimmers - Ed Konrad
A “conspiracy” of Black Skimmers – Ed Konrad

We are among a lucky few to have the Black Skimmer along our beaches. As you can see from the map below, this dramatic and beautiful bird populates only a very small portion of the United States.

Range map for Black Skimmer - you can see it is more common in South America.
Range map for Black Skimmer – you can see it is more common in South America.

Aside from its striking black and white plumage, the Black Skimmer is memorable because of its eating style. It is the only bird in America with a longer lower beak than upper. It’s this special feature that enables it to skim the top of the water with its mouth open and the lower bill slightly submerged, feeling for small fish. When one is encountered, the upper bill snaps shut to capture its prey. Because the skimmer uses its sense of touch to hunt, it can successfully forage in all types of light, and even in the dark. That’s an advantage for us human observers since we can watch at any time of day and wonder at the skimmer’s incredible ability to remain a constant distance above the water, alternately gliding and propelling itself along.

Interestingly, the newborn skimmer chick does not have the extended lower mandible. However, after only four weeks, it is visibly longer.

You will be able to pick out the skimmers on the beach in several ways. They are fairly large – 16-20″. They have a very long, low profile because of their short legs and long wings. Their wings actually extend beyond their tail feathers when they are on the ground and account for their relatively large wing span when flying. The sharp contrast of their black and white coloration and their bright red and black beaks also make them easily identifiable.

Probably one of the reasons Seabrookers can see so many skimmers is that there is a large breeding group on Deveaux Bank. As with all the seabirds, they build their nests in colonies, scratching out a shallow depression in the sand. This makes them very vulnerable in areas where beaches are heavily populated by humans. It’s to our benefit that the Deveaux rookery is so nearby.

Don’t miss seeing these unique birds – even if you have to make a special trip to the North Beach.

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Article submitted from prior post by:  Marcia Hider
Photographs provided by:  Ed Konrad

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

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