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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Black Skimmer Rynchops niger

Similar to terns in overall shape, skimmers have remarkable and highly distinctive bills. The lower part, or mandible, of the bill is at least a third longer than the upper part and is laterally compressed, giving it a shape like a scissor blade. When feeding, a skimmer flies low over calm water with its lower mandible slicing through the surface. If the mandible touches food, the skimmer snaps its bill shut, flicking its catch into its mouth. The black skimmer is one of three species of skimmers, all of which are dark above, with white underparts. Like its relatives, the black skimmer often feeds at dawn and dusk, and it will also feed during the night if the moonlight is bright enough. It lives in small flocks and nests on beaches and sand spits, laying its eggs in an unlined hollow on the ground. The black skimmer is migratory in the far north and south of its range.

Black Skimmerzoom image
  • Order Charadriiformes
  • Length 16–20 in (40–50 cm)
  • Weight 9–14 oz (250–400 g)
  • Habitat Estuaries, lagoons, lakes, coasts
  • Distribution Pacific and Atlantic coasts of North, Central, and South America, north to Massachusetts
Black Skimmer habitat mapzoom image