|Conservation status||In late 19th century, eggs were harvested commercially, and adults were killed for their feathers, leading to a reduction of Atlantic Coast populations; good recovery of numbers since. Still very sensitive to disturbance in nesting colonies. Range expanding in west.|
|Family||Gulls and Terns|
|Habitat||Mostly ocean beaches, tidewater. Favors coastal waters protected from open surf, such as lagoons, estuaries, inlets, sheltered bays. Locally on inland lakes in Florida and at Salton Sea, California. Nests on sandy islands, beaches, shell banks. In South America, occurs far inland along major rivers.|
Well-known for its skimming habit, furrowing the water with lower mandible, the upper mandible snapping down immediately when contact is made with a fish. Finds food by touch, not by sight; often forages in late evening or at night, when waters may be calmer and more fish may be close to surface. Rarely may forage by wading in very shallow water, scooping up fish.
4-5, sometimes 3, rarely 6-7. Variable in color, whitish to buff to blue-green, marked with dark brown. Incubation is by both sexes (male may do more), 21-23 days. Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Upper and lower mandibles of young are same length at first, so they are able to pick up food dropped on the ground by parents. Young wander in vicinity of nest after a few days; if danger threatens, may attempt to look inconspicuous by lying flat on beach, even kicking up sand to make a hollow to lie in. Able to fly at about 23-25 days.
Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Upper and lower mandibles of young are same length at first, so they are able to pick up food dropped on the ground by parents. Young wander in vicinity of nest after a few days; if danger threatens, may attempt to look inconspicuous by lying flat on beach, even kicking up sand to make a hollow to lie in. Able to fly at about 23-25 days.
Mostly fish. Feeds mostly on small fish that live just below surface of water. Also eats some small crustaceans.
Breeds in colonies. Courtship not well studied, may involve zigzagging flight with two or more males pursuing one female. Nest site on ground on open sandy beach, shell bank, sandbar; sometimes on gravel roof. Nest is shallow scrape in sand.
Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds
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Withdraws from northern part of breeding range in winter. Sometimes pushed north along coast by tropical storms, rarely driven inland. Has colonized southern California (from western Mexico) since 1960s, now nests at Salton Sea and San Diego.
- All Seasons - Common
- All Seasons - Uncommon
- Breeding - Common
- Breeding - Uncommon
- Winter - Common
- Winter - Uncommon
- Migration - Common
- Migration - Uncommon
See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.Learn more
Songs and CallsShort barking notes.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Black Skimmer
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Climate threats facing the Black Skimmer
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.