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Black Skimmer


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.


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

    • 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

    • 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.



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