Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)

Black skimmer | Photo credit: Robin Agarwal

Black skimmers require a double-take to fully appreciate their odd proportions. Unlike all other North American bird species, the lower portion of the skimmer’s knife-like beak is longer than the upper. This unique adaptation allows the skimmer to fly just above the water, its long lower mandible skimming the water’s surface for fish which, when found, it snaps up instantly. Skimmer’s bodies are also oddly proportioned, measuring eighteen inches in length with long, narrow wings and extremely short legs.

The black skimmer is black above, with a white face, throat, and underside. Their odd beak is bright red at the base and black at the tip. Black skimmers are found along the East and Gulf coasts of the United States, as well as Central and South America. Best observed along coastal bays, islands, and beaches, black skimmers create simple nests consisting of nothing more than shallow scrapes in the sand. Coloration resembling beach sand and debris disguises black skimmer eggs and chicks from predators and other threats.

Texas offers year-round black skimmer viewing opportunities. Nesting black skimmers can occasionally be observed at Goose Island State Park near Rockport, and along the John F. Kennedy Causeway in Corpus Christi, where a special area has been set aside for them. Such protection is necessary, as widespread coastal development and beach traffic poses serious hazards to black skimmer populations nationwide. Black skimmers are along Laguna Madre at Padre Island National Seashore.

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