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Black Skimmer

Rynchops niger ORDER: CHARADRIIFORMES FAMILY: LARIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The remarkable bill of the Black Skimmer sets it apart from all other American birds. The large red and black bill is knife-thin and the lower mandible is longer than the upper. The bird drags the lower bill through the water as it flies along, hoping to catch small fish.

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Appearance

Gull-like
Gull-like
Typical Voice

Adult Description

  • Medium-sized to large waterbird.
  • Long red and black bill; lower half longest.
  • Black back and cap.
  • Underparts white.
  • Very short red legs.
  • Long, pointd wings.

Immature Description

Similar to adult, but with mottled black-and-white back and head.

Range Map Help

Black Skimmer Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult breeding

    Black Skimmer

    Adult breeding
    • Long wings extend past tail
    • Orange and black bill with lower mandible longer than upper mandible
    • Black on forehead, neck, back and wings
    • White face and underparts
    • Short legs
    • © Matt Bango, Raritan Bay, New Jersey, July 2010
  • Adult nonbreeding

    Black Skimmer

    Adult nonbreeding
    • Unique bill hangs open to "skim" water as bird flies low over the surface
    • White underparts and black upperparts
    • Winter adult has white collar on nape
    • Bright orange and black bill
    • Long wings used for gliding and flapping low over water
    • © Michael Rosenbaum, Merritt Island NWR, Florida, February 2007
  • Adult breeding

    Black Skimmer

    Adult breeding
    • Black covers crown, back, and wings
    • Thin white trailing edge on wings
    • Bright orange and black bill
    • Long, broad wings
    • White from base of bill through underparts
    • © Phillip Simmons, The Narrows, Seminole, Florida, June 2010
  • Adult nonbreeding

    Black Skimmer

    Adult nonbreeding
    • Bill orange at base and black at tip
    • Blade-like lower mandible extends past upper mandible
    • Winter adult has white collar around neck
    • Dark eye obscured within black cap
    • © Thomas J. Dunkerton/GBBC, Parrish Park, Titusville, Florida
  • First-winter

    Black Skimmer

    First-winter
    • Dusky gray cap, back, and wings with some flecks of white
    • White collar on nape, and white on face, breast, and belly
    • Two-toned orange and black bill with lower mandible jutting out past upper mandible
    • Short orange legs
    • Long wings extend past tail
    • © Jay Paredes, Pompano Beach, Florida, December 2010
  • Juvenile

    Black Skimmer

    Juvenile
    • Tan, black, and white patterning on crown, back, and wings
    • Very short legs
    • Orange and black bill hasn't yet developed unique adult shape
    • Dark eye
    • © Greg Gard, Sandy Hook, New Jersey, September 2010
  • Adult breeding

    Black Skimmer

    Adult breeding
    • Black wings show white trailing edge in flight
    • Black on back/rump extends down through center of otherwise white tail
    • Head bowed down with orange and black bill poised to "skim" water surface
    • Black on crown and nape
    • © James Blair, Temecula Heights, San Diego, California, July 2010
  • Adult feeding chick

    Black Skimmer

    Adult feeding chick
    • Chick covered in fluffy tan down with dark speckling
    • Adult with dark upperparts, white underparts, and long wings
    • Adult's orange-and-black bill has knife-like lower mandible protruding past upper mandible
    • © Phillip Simmons, Pinellas County, Florida, June 2010

Similar Species

Similar Species

  • American Oystercatcher in similar habitats and has a large red bill, but it has sturdy legs, short wings, a brown back, and a bold white stripe in the open wing.
  • Gulls are bulkier, with shorter wings and bill.
  • Terns have mostly white backs and wings and shorter bills.