Black Skimmer

Rynchops niger

The remarkable bill of the Black Skimmer is sets it apart from all other American birds. The large red and black bill is knife-thin and the lower mandible is longer than the upper. The bird drags the lower bill through the water as it flies along, hoping to catch small fish.

Interesting Information

  • The Black Skimmer is the only American representative of the skimmer family. The other two, rather similar, species are the African Skimmer and the Indian Skimmer. All use the same unusual feeding method.

  • Although the Black Skimmer is active throughout the day, it is largely crepuscular (active in the dawn and dusk) and even nocturnal. Its use of touch to catch fish lets it be successful in low light or darkness.

  • At hatching, the two mandibles of a young Black Skimmer are equal in length, but by fledging at four weeks, the lower mandible is already nearly 1 cm longer than the upper.


Adult Description

  • Length Range: 46-48 cm (18-19 in)

  • Weight: 349 g (12.3 oz)

  • Size: Large (16 - 32 in)

  • Long red and black bill; lower half longest.

  • Black back and cap.

  • Underparts white.

  • Very short red legs.

  • Long, pointd wings.

Sex Differences

Sexes Similar


Similar to adult, but with mottled black-and-white back and head.


Photo taken from: The Sibley Field Guide by David Allen Sibley

© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Sandy or gravelly bars and beaches, shallow bays, estuaries, and salt marsh pools.


Flies along just above water surface and drags lower part of bill through water. When it encounters a fish, it tucks its head and grabs the fish as it flies past.


Small fish & shrimp.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Laridae
    Subfamily: Rynchopinae
Genus: Rynchops
Species: Rynchops niger
    Subspecies: Rynchops niger niger

Similar Species

  • American Oystercatcher in similar habitats and has a large red bill, but it has sturdy legs, short wings, a brown back, and a bold white stripe in the open wing.

  • Gulls are bulkier, with shorter wings and bill.

  • Terns have mostly white backs and wings and shorter bills.

Bird Sound

A barking "yip."

Eggs look like this

Photo taken from: ARCTOS Collaborative Collection Management Solution


Black Skimmer

Up close and personal