Bird Introductions – Black Skimmer

Black skimmer photo by Scott Bourne

The black skimmer (Rynchops niger) is a crepuscular animal meaning it is active at dusk and dawn. These tern-like seabirds are full of cool features. They have vertical pupils to reduce the glare from the water since they spend all their time feeding on the water.

Black skimmers fly close to the surface of water with open beak and submerged lower mandible. They use sense of touch to detect prey. Once the prey is detected, bird quickly closes its beak to catch the prey.

They mate for life and can live to be up to 20 years old in the wild, which is pretty good for a bird.

Unfortunately, their habitats are often attractive to humans, who destroy their nests and disrupt their breeding habits. Besides habitat destruction, black skimmers are threatened by chemical pollution of the water, oil spills and predation by domestic animals. Number of black skimmers dropped in the 19th century when people hunted them because of their feathers and meat. The good news is that nature finds a way and the species has come back and is not under major threat today.

The Black Skimmer has many folk names in North America, such as scissor-bill, shearwater, seadog, flood gull, stormgull, razorbill, and cutwater.

The best folk name for these birds in my opinion is “aerial rabbit” as coined by. Seabird biologist R.C. Murphy in 1936.

One more cool fact and it’s about that distinct lower bill. At hatching, the upper and lower bill of the black skimmer are at equal lengths. But by age four weeks, when the bird fledges, the lower mandible is already a half-inch longer and will continue to grow longer as the bird becomes an adult.

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Bird Introductions

Scott Bourne View All →

Scott Bourne is an Olympus Visionary, a professional bird/wildlife photographer, author and lecturer who specializes in birds. He is a pioneer in digital photography and was named one of the “30 most influential photographers on the Web” by Huffington Post. His photographic experience spans four decades and his bird/wildlife images have been published in more than 200 magazines and periodicals. He is also a Signed Master at Studio of Masters in China.

Scott has been a founder, co-founder, advisor or early stage investor in several technology companies such as NetRadio, Photofocus, and ViewBug.

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