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Black skimmer (Rynchops niger)

By Jan Baumgartner

This medium-sized, black and white shorebird with a bowl haircut flocks to Siesta Key’s public beaches with all the sunseekers.
The skimmer is also called a scissor-bill because its orange and black bill, with an extreme underbite, resembles a pair of scissors.

As the bird glides on wing mere inches above calm, shallow waters, the lower part of its razor-thin bill skims just below the surface. When it meets an unsuspecting fish, the bill snaps shut. Its extremely sensitive bill allows the skimmer to forage by feel even in total darkness!
Between hunting sorties, skimmers find safety in numbers on the beach. Whenever a perceived threat gets too close, the flock either shuffles away in unison or evacuates all together. By turning its head sideways and tucking its bill under a wing, the skimmer can rest while keep an eye on curious beachgoers.
These short-legged birds nap standing up. Don’t be alarmed, however, if you find a skimmer lying flat, outstretched, with its head down on the sand. More than likely, it’s simply resting overworked neck muscles that support its cantilevered bill while skimming.

Jan Baumgartner’s handmade notecards are available at Sunshine & Sand Hidden Treasures, 6635 Midnight Pass Rd., in Crescent Plaza.

Jan Baumgartner
Author: Jan Baumgartner

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