The Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) is a tern-like seabird, one of three very similar birds species in the skimmer genus Rynchops in the gull family Laridae. It breeds in North and South America. Northern populations winter in the warmer waters of the Caribbean and the tropical and subtropical Pacific coasts, but the South American races make only shorter movements in response to annual floods which extend their feeding areas in the river shallows.
The basal half of the bill is red, the rest mainly black, and the lower mandible is much-elongated. The eye has a dark brown iris and catlike vertical pupil, unique for a bird. The legs are red. The call is a barking kak-kak-kak.
Adults in breeding plumage have a black crown, nape and upper body. The forehead and underparts are white. The upper wings are black with white on the rear edge, and the tail and rump are dark gray with white edges. The under-wing color varies from white to dusky gray depending on the region.
Non-breeding adults have paler and browner upperparts and a white nape collar. Immature birds have brown upperparts with white feather tips and fringes. The underparts and forehead are white, and the underwings as the adult. [Wikipedia]
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. [All About Birds]
Black Skimmer Facts [All About Birds]
- The Black Skimmer is the only American representative of the skimmer family. The other two, rather similar, species are the African Skimmer and the Indian Skimmer. All use the same unusual feeding method.
- Although the Black Skimmer is active throughout the day, it is largely crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) and even nocturnal. Its use of touch to catch fish lets it be successful in low light or darkness.
- At hatching, the two mandibles of a young Black Skimmer are equal in length, but by fledging at four weeks, the lower mandible is already nearly 1 cm 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.