• Jeff

Black Skimmer

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.

A long-winged bird with stark black-and-white plumage, the Black Skimmer has a unique grace as it forages in flight. Skimmers feed by opening the bill and dropping the long, narrow lower mandible into the water, skimming along until they feel a fish. Then they relax the neck, quickly closing their jaws and whipping the fish out of the water. Because they feed by essentially by touch, they can even forage at night. The world’s three species of skimmers are the only birds on earth that feed in this manner.

Look for Black Skimmers on barrier islands and ocean beaches. Like terns, skimmers nest and rest in predictable spots, making them easy to locate by asking a local birder or angler. A spotting scope is useful to enjoy skimmers at a distance without disturbing their colonies. When foraging, skimmers often pay little attention to people, sometimes flying within a few feet of bathers and boats.

The distinctive Black Skimmer has many folk names in North America, where it has been called scissor-bill, shearwater, seadog, flood gull, storm gull, razorbill, and cutwater.

Although the Black Skimmer is active throughout the day, it is largely crepuscular (active in the 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 upper and lower bill of a young Black Skimmer are equal in length, but by fledging at 4 weeks, the lower mandible is already nearly a half-inch longer than the upper.

Black Skimmers lay eggs directly on sandy, shelly, or stony ground, usually on islands or remote beaches that have at least a little vegetation. Some nest in the higher parts of saltmarshes. They often nest near or among tern colonies, which (despite numerous squabbles) can provide benefits, as terns aggressively attack gulls and mammals that prey on eggs and chicks.


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Mates take turns scraping, using an exaggerated posture (with the neck, head, bill, and tail raised) to kick sand behind them with alternating foot strokes. They then rotate in their scrape to create a saucer-shaped depression, similar to the resting scrapes they use throughout the year. The depression takes only a few minutes to create, and the birds may make several scrapes before eggs are laid. Males do more scraping and make larger scrapes than females. The average scrape is 10 inches in diameter and 1 inch deep.


Pictures by Jeff, from my backyard and Peveto Beach area with my Canon SX70HS

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