Black skimmer

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Project Description

Black Skimmer

Rynchops niger

Range/Geographical Distribution:  Throughout the Americas from the United States south through Mexico and Central America and including much of South America.

Habitat: Usually seen along open sandy beaches and occasionally in saltmarshes. 

Similar Species:  American oystercatcher. 

Description:  A medium-sized, gull-like bird with a black back and white underside.  Feet are orange, bill is orange and black with lower mandible larger than upper mandible.  Immatures are a speckled brown. 

Size: Length: 15-20” Wingspan: 44” Weight: 200-450g

Food: Small fish and crustaceans.

Breeding:  Nests colonially with gulls and terns.  Lays four black-spotted pale cream eggs in a sandy scrape on beaches, on islands, and in saltmarshes.

Predators:  Nest predators include gulls, raccoons, dogs, cats, and rats.

Conservation Status: The black skimmer is listed as least concern by IUCN but is on several state lists including endangered in New Jersey and special concern in North Carolina and Florida.  Threats to these birds include loss of nesting habitat and egg predation by loose dogs.

Interesting Facts: Black skimmers have narrow vertical pupils, which is rare in birds.  This trait is thought to help reduce the glare on the surface of water and sand.

On the Coast:  The black skimmer can be seen flying in large flocks along Tybee beach.  It also flies low to the water with its bill open “skimming” along the surface for fish.

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