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Black Skimmer

Black Skimmers are distant relatives of gulls and terns. They have long wings, a two-toned bill that seems misshaped, garish, and with a lower bill that is much longer and narrower than the upper bill. Their plumage is primarily black above and white below --which seems strange for a bird that nests on sunny beaches and mud-flats.

The adaptive values of the skimmer’s plumage colors are that the white under side reflects light onto the water, making it easier for the bird to see its prey, and the black topside makes the skimmer less visible to a hawk or owl from above when it is flying low over the water. Its knife-like lower bill reduces effort needed to slice through the water as the skimmer searches for food. Its very long wings allow a skimmer to fly with ease without moving its wings below horizontal. A deep full flap would require the skimmer to fly too high to capture fish.

While skimmers are very social birds and rather tolerant of human presence, their eggs and young are easily killed by the sun’s heat if adults are disturbed at the nest. Always give them a break and stay well back from the nest. All the photos shown here were taken with a 500 mm lens at a safe distance from the birds or their nests.