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Bird Gallery

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer
Black Skimmer

© Joanne Kamo

Rynchops Niger

Family: (Laridae) Gulls, Terns, and Allies

Preferred Habitat: Coastal beaches and bays.

Seasonal Occurrence: Very common throughout the year; breeds in our area


The only American representative of the skimmer family, the Black Skimmer has a jet black back and cap, white underparts, long pointed wings, and short red legs. The long, thick, red and black beak of the Black Skimmer makes it unique among North American birds; it is the only bird with a lower mandible that is longer than its upper mandible. The Black Skimmer's vertical pupils are also distinctive. Their catlike pupils protect their retinas from the glare of sun-drenched beaches and reflective ocean water.

The Black Skimmer has an unusual foraging technique. In search of small fish, a feeding skimmer flies low over the water with its bill open and its lower mandible slicing the surface. When the mandible touches a fish, the upper bill snaps down instantly to catch it. In addition to small fish, Black Skimmers will also consume small crustaceans.

Black Skimmers are colonial seabirds that nest in groups. Look for colonies on beaches, sandy islands, exposed shell banks, saltmarshes and gravel rooftops.

One of the largest and most successful colonies of Black Skimmers in Texas is at the Dow Industrial Complex at Freeport. One day each year, Dow opens its facility to members of the public interested in viewing the skimmers which now number in the hundreds. Anyone interested in attending the event should arrive at the Dow A-41 Gate located on FM 523, approximately one mile south of the intersection of Highway 332 and FM 523. A bus will shuttle visitors to the location of the colony. Visitors must present a photo ID in order to board the bus.

Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary and Rollover Pass are good places to look for Black Skimmers.

-- Vicki Stittleburg