Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

American skimmer, Razor-billed shearwater, Scissorbill

Rynchops niger
Population size
Life Span
20 yrs
212-447 g
40-50 cm
107-127 cm

Black skimmers are large tern-like seabirds that can be found in the Americas. Adults in breeding plumage have a black crown, nape and upper body. The forehead and underparts are white. The upper wings are black with white on the rear edge, and the tail and rump are dark grey with white edges. Non-breeding adults have paler and browner upperparts, and a white nape collar. Immature birds have brown upperparts with white feather tips and fringes. The underparts and forehead are white, and the underwings as the adult.


Black skimmers breed in North and South America. Northern populations winter in the warmer waters of the Caribbean and the tropical and subtropical Pacific coasts. Black skimmers inhabit coastal marshes, sandy shores and islands, shallow bays, estuaries, lagoons, creeks, inlets, and rivers.

Black Skimmer habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Black skimmers spend much time loafing gregariously on sandbars in the rivers, coasts, and lagoons they frequent. The birds communicate with each other through displays and vocally; their typical call is a barking 'kak-kak-kak'. Black skimmers have a light graceful flight, with steady beats of their long wings. They feed usually in large flocks, flying low over the water surface with the lower mandible skimming the water (in order of importance) for small fish and other prey caught by touch. They forage by night but are also active during the day. Black skimmers clean themselves often spending a lot of time bathing in freshwater and preening. When sleeping in a flock, they remain standing and tuck their heads into the wing.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Black skimmers are carnivores (piscivores). Their diet includes small fish, insects, crustaceans and mollusks.

Mating Habits

21-23 days
6 weeks
3-7 eggs

Black skimmers are monogamous; they form pairs and males aggressively protect their mates. They breed in loose groups on sandbanks and sandy beaches. The female lays 3 to 7 heavily dark-blotched buff or bluish eggs and both parents incubate them for 21-23 days. The chicks leave the nest as soon as they hatch and lie inconspicuously in the nest depression or "scrape" where they are shaded from high temperatures by the parents. They may dig their own depressions in the sand at times. The young fledge at 23-25 days after hatching but start flying at 6 weeks of age.


Population threats

The main threats to Black skimmers include habitat loss, human disturbances, pesticides, and oil pollution. Storms also destroy nests and swamp newly hatched chicks.

Population number

According to the What Bird resource, the total population size of the Black skimmer is around 200,000 individuals. According to the All About Birds resource the total North American population size of this species is 65,000-70,000 breeding birds. Overall, currently, Black skimmers are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but their numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The genus name of this species 'Rynchops' comes from the Ancient Greek rhunkhos 'bill' and ops 'face'. The specific 'niger' is the Latin word and is translated as 'black'.
  • Skimmers were formerly known as the scissorbills.
  • Skimmers are the only birds with distinctive uneven bills, where the lower mandible is longer than the upper. This remarkable adaptation allows them to fish in their unique way, flying low and fast over streams.
  • When Black skimmers are tired after foraging they lie flat on the sand and extend their head and bill in front of them.
  • Black skimmers have a very elegant flight looking like an aerial ballet; they circle, bank, and alight in the sky as one.


1. Black Skimmer on Wikipedia -
2. Black Skimmer on The IUCN Red List site -

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