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Bird Identification

Black Skimmer

Rynchops niger Length: 18"

Look For

One of our most distinctive birds, the Black Skimmer is named for its method of foraging—its elongated lower bill (mandible) plows lightly through the water, feeling for small fish. The skimmer's very long body and bill make its shape easy to pick out in a flock of resting gulls and terns.

Listen For

Skimmers utter a high-pitched, burry bark. Eerrff! Eerrff!


Skimmers are very graceful fliers, wheeling in tight turns and gliding just above the water's surface. Standing at rest, they appear to lack eyes—their black eyes and black hoods blend together completely.

Find it

Skimmers prefer to feed on and nest near smooth salt water, such as estuaries, bays, and lagoons, where the calm water makes foraging easier. Flocks on beaches will all face into the wind. Find out where you can see this bird »


The Black Skimmer's bill is thin and knifelike, perfect for slicing through the water, skimming for tasty fish. The skimmer does not usually see its food. It feels for its food as it skims along.

This profile is an excerpt from The Young Birder's Guide by Bill Thompson, III. Purchase an autographed copy from our nature store, and check out other BWD titles designed to help you identify backyard birds.

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