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Black Skimmer

Rynchops niger

The Black Skimmer is a specialist feeder. Though it may not look like the rest of its cousins, it is considered a proper member of the tern family. It’s a mesmerizing sight to watch these birds forage over the waters of a bay or lagoon. Especially on a calm morning or evening over still water, with wings held high so they won’t touch the water surface, leaving behind only a long “V” wake. When they contact a small fish with their bill, it snaps shut as if spring loaded, and is one of the fastest actions in nature.

These birds are members of the tern nesting community in South San Diego Bay, where I have been privileged to accompany biologists on their tern surveys during nesting season. Caspian Terns have a reputation for aggressiveness and attacking intruders, but the only blood-letting episode I have witnessed was caused by a Black Skimmer wing-whipping my friend Brian from behind, giving him a bloody ear.

From 1966 to 2015, the Black Skimmer has decreased its population by 4% per year, resulting in a population reduction of 87% over that period. They have been designated as a “species of high concern”. There are many obstacles to their nesting success, not the least of which is their dependence on beach sites loved by homosapiens for recreation.

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