The Black Skimmer is a peculiar looking bird because of its uniquely designed bright orange, black tipped bill which features a lower mandible that is much longer than the upper (the only bird in North America with such a beak). The skimmer feeds on fish and shrimp which it forages by flying low over the water with its lower mandible slicing through the water. When it senses a fish or shrimp it clamps its jaw tight and seizes its prey. While skimming, the water flowing into the lower jaw exits out through an exhaust vent at the base of the bill which is an amazing phenomenon to see.
The Black Skimmer is a fairly large bird approximately 18-20″ in length with a wing span up to four feet in an adult. At birth the mandibles are the same length however by the time they have fledged (about four weeks old) the lower mandible is already nearly 1 cm longer than the upper.
The Black Skimmer lays its eggs in a simple scrape on the ground, usually in a beach area, and rarely has any nest material associated with it. The incubation period is 21-23 days with both parents taking part in the process. One of the biggest threats to skimmer nests is via public encroachment by people who inadvertently trample the eggs. For this reason known skimmer nesting areas are cordoned off during the spring nesting season.
The following images were taken in March of this year at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida while Deb & I were waiting to photograph a rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center which is also located on Merritt Island.
This in flight shot shows the unique bill design for which the Black Skimmer is notorious.
A group of these birds are known as a “Conspiracy”, “Embezzlement” or “Scoop” of Black Skimmers.
More Black Skimmer images can be seen in the Gulls, Terns & Skimmers Gallery