The Black Skimmer is one of three skimmer species and breeds in
North and South America, the northern birds wintering in
A seabird allied to terns, it has a most unusual beak with
the lower bill much longer than the upper bill. The beak is
orange for the base half and black for the top half.
Bizarrely, the bill tapers to a narrow blade when seen
head-on. Apparently this allows the Skimmer to speed over
the top of the water with the lower beak in the water and to
trap small fish.
The orange feet are webbed, with black claws.
It is up to 50cm (20 inches) long with a wingspan of up to 127cm (4 feet).
The photos on this page were taken by Alexandra Makhnina in
Florida, USA. She comments particularly on the strange
sleeping position of many of the skimmers which were lying
on the beach relatively unafraid of people. They looked as
if they were dead, so many stretched out like "lazy dogs",
but they were resting. Possibly the bill is heavy.
The juvenile has a more cryptic grey and black plumage, a less
bright bill and less-pronounced disparity between the top
and bottom of the beak.
Some immature birds are brown. They may be older juveniles
since the bill is brighter -- the one shown above right has
an almost adult bill in colour and disparity and darker