adult, breeding
Gulf Restoration

Black Skimmer

Photo: Arthur Morris/VIREO

Black Skimmer

These elegant, unusual birds nest right where weathered oil continues washing ashore and cleanup crews are active: sand and shell beaches and islands. Black Skimmer populations are declining because of development and coastal erosion (which reduces suitable nesting habitat) and disturbance by humans (which destroys eggs and tiny chicks). Lingering oil and cleanup activities continue affecting their habitat across the northern Gulf Coast, adding additional stresses to their already-shrinking populations.

The Black Skimmer is distinctive for its voice, brightly colored bill, and "skimming" behavior. Sexes look similar, with dark upperparts, a white forehead and underparts (juveniles are mottled brown above instead of black), a short white tail with black center, red legs, and a large black-tipped red bill.

When feeding, this coastal waterbird flies low, its long lower mandible slicing the water's surface in search of fish. The skimmer's long wings enable hairpin turns; flocks often wheel in unison.

Black Skimmers are highly social birds, flocking outside the breeding season, and nesting in colonies on beaches and islands. Colony sizes range from single pairs to many thousands on the Gulf Coast. The skimmer's nest is a shallow scrape on an open beach, shell bank, sandbar, and occasionally, a gravel roof. The three to five white, buff, or blue-green eggs, heavily marked with brown, are perfectly camouflaged on the beach.  Chicks, brooded and fed by both parents, hatch in about three weeks.