Living Bird Magazine
Black SkimmerRynchops niger
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Laridae
A long-winged bird with stark black-and-white plumage, the Black Skimmer has a unique grace as it forages in flight. Skimmers feed by opening the bill and dropping the long, narrow lower mandible into the water, skimming along until they feel a fish. Then they relax the neck, quickly closing their jaws and whipping the fish out of the water. Because they feed by essentially by touch, they can even forage at night. The world’s three species of skimmers are the only birds on earth that feed in this manner.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for Black Skimmers on barrier islands and ocean beaches. Like terns, skimmers nest and rest in predictable spots, making them easy to locate by asking a local birder or angler. A spotting scope is useful to enjoy skimmers at a distance without disturbing their colonies. When foraging, skimmers often pay little attention to people, sometimes flying within a few feet of bathers and boats.
- Rayador Americano (Spanish)
- Bec-en-ciseaux noir (French)
- Cool Facts
- The distinctive Black Skimmer has many folk names in North America, where it has been called scissor-bill, shearwater, seadog, flood gull, stormgull, razorbill, and cutwater.
- Although the Black Skimmer is active throughout the day, it is largely crepuscular (active in the dawn and dusk) and even nocturnal. Its use of touch to catch fish lets it be successful in low light or darkness.
- Possibly the best description of the Black Skimmer's bounding, head-down foraging style came from the great seabird biologist R. C. Murphy in 1936. He said they look like “unworldly… aerial beagles hot on the scent of aerial rabbits.”
- At hatching, the upper and lower bill of a young Black Skimmer are equal in length, but by fledging at 4 weeks, the lower mandible is already nearly a half-inch longer than the upper.
- The oldest recorded Black Skimmer was at least 23 years, 1 month old when it was identified by its band in California in 2013. It had been banded in the same state in 1990.