The unusual bill of the Black Skimmer allows it to skim the water's surface in search of fish, leading to the bird's common name. It has one of the most amazing feeding behaviors of any North American bird: As the bird flies low over the water with its lower bill penetrating the surface, its upper bill snaps shut instantly when it senses a fish.
Highly social, Black Skimmers are closely related to terns, including Least Tern. They roost and breed in colonies that can include thousands of pairs. Successful colonies often occupy the same nest sites each year, usually on sandy or gravelly bars and beaches. Small colonies or those that are unsuccessful usually relocate.
Black Skimmers in flight are like an aerial ballet: They circle, bank, and alight as one. The birds are active at all times of day, but activity peaks at dawn and dusk. The birds are even nocturnal, using their finely-tuned sense of touch to catch fish when light levels are low.
At this time, the Black Skimmer is not listed as a threatened species at the federal level; however, the species appears on the lists of several states. It's considered Endangered in New Jersey and a species of special concern in North Carolina and Florida. North American populations are on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, which lists bird species that are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without conservation action.
As a ground nester, this species is preyed upon by cats and affected by threats to fish populations. Because these birds nest close to the water's edge and feed from the water surface, the species was a concern during the 2010 BP oil spill. According to one source, 263 Black Skimmers were collected that year during the oil spill response.
A major threat to Black Skimmers is habitat loss from coastal development and human disturbance, such as people walking or driving through nesting areas. People love the beach, too, and are often unaware that their activities can cause problems for the birds.
We're working with states along the Gulf Coast to increase awareness of the issues. From posting educational signs and conducting boater awareness surveys to distributing breeding bird guides and creating public service announcements, our Beach-nesting Birds Program is bringing back populations of Black Skimmer and other species, such as Snowy Plover and Least Tern.
We welcome all and every effort to help us "bring back the birds." If you would like to make a donation, please click here. Or visit our Get Involved page to learn more about how you can help. Together, we can make a difference for this special bird.