August 2014 Bird Photo of the Month

Black Skimmers in tandem © Thelma Eliza Gatuzzo
Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)

Aren’t these Black Skimmers graceful gliding over the water in tandem? How did photographer Thelma Eliza Gatuzzo using a Canon 5D Mark III and 100-400 lens catch this fluid pose, wings raised high? Skimmers fish in tidal shallow waters within 6 feet of land where small fish concentrate at low tide. When a fish touches the lower bill that skims just below the surface, the upper bill instantly clamps shut. Skimming on the surface with their distinctively adaptive bills to catch fish is the only way Skimmers have been observed to feed. Feeding primarily at dusk and dawn Skimmers then often laze all day along bays, estuaries, lagoons, rivers, salt marshes, and ditches.

Very social birds, Black Skimmers nest in colonies with various more aggressive terns that help provide early warning and defense against predators. Primarily nesting along coasts of California, the Gulf and Atlantic as far north as Maine. In Florida, Skimmers nest inland as well as on the coast. In September northern skimmers migrate to warmer climes south, some to Costa Rica. In one migratory group at Sebastian inlet in February, we counted over 350 migratory Skimmers all huddled together facing the cold wind. What a sight! They return to New England in April for nesting. One study found that the young banded in Maryland were recovered from South Carolina to Florida.

Much of their beach-nesting habitat is no longer available due to human construction for homes, commercial buildings, and recreational facilities. Ants, gulls, hawks, owls, crows, rats, raccoons, dogs, and cats eat eggs and young, thus nesting on salt marsh mats or islands is preferred. Summer storms and floods may cause mortality when 2-week-old young are vulnerable. Birds disturbed by humans getting too close, by off-road vehicles, or vandalism led to egg/chick abandonment. The solution essential for their survival is total beach closure for the full breeding season.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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