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Black Skimmer
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Suborder: Lari
Family: Rynchopidae
Bonaparte, 1838
Genus: Rynchops
Linnaeus, 1758

The Skimmers, Rynchopidae, are a small family of tern-like birds in the order Charadriiformes, which also includes the waders, gulls and auks. The family comprises three species found in South Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

The three species are the only birds with distinctive uneven bills with the lower mandible longer than the upper. This remarkable adaptation allows them to fish in a unique way, flying low and fast over streams.[1] Their lower mandible skims or slices over the water's surface ready to snap shut any small fish unable to dart clear. They are the only birds known to have slit-shaped pupils.[2] Their bills fall within their field of binocular vision and enable them to carefully position their bill and capture prey.[3] They are one of the most agile birds in air that gather in large flocks, loafing on river and coastal sand banks.[4]

They are tropical and subtropical species which lay 3-6 eggs on sandy beaches. The female incubates the eggs. Because of the species' restricted nesting habitat the three species are vulnerable to disturbance at their nesting sites. One species, the Indian Skimmer, is considered vulnerable by the IUCN due to this as well as destruction and degradation of the lakes and rivers it uses for feeding.

See Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy for an alternative classification. The genus name Rynchops is often misspelled Rhynchops (as in some of the later editions of the works of Linnaeus), though the first version is taxonomically valid, being Linnaeus's original spelling.


  1. ^ Mariano-Jelicich, R; Favero, M. and Silva, M.P. (February 2003). "Fish Prey of the Black Skimmer Rynchops Niger at Mar Chiquita, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina". Marine Ornithology 31: 199–202. Retrieved 2009-06-29.  
  2. ^ On the Slit Pupil of the Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)
  3. ^ Martin, G.R., Rojas, L.M., and McNeil, R. 2007. Vision and the foraging technique of Skimmers (Rynchopidae). Ibis 149: 750-757
  4. ^ Fusco, P.J. "Connecticut Wildlife." Connecticut Department of Environment Protection Bureau of Natural Resources - Wildlife Division. May-June 2006. Accessed 2009-06-29.

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SKIMMER, the English name bestowed by T. Pennant 1 in 1781 on a North American bird which had already been figured and described by M. Catesby Carolina, i. pl. 90) as the "Cut-water," - as it appears still to be called on some parts of the coast, 2 - remarkable for the unique formation of its bill, in which the maxilla, or so-called upper mandible, is capable of much vertical movement, while the lower mandible, which is considerably the longer of the two, is laterally compressed so as to be as thin as a knife-blade. This bird is the Rhynchops nigra of Linnaeus, who, however, united with it what proves to be an allied species from India that, having been indicated many years before by Petiver (Gazoph. naturae, tab. 76, fig. 2), on the authority of Buckley, was only technically named and described in 1838 by W. Swainson (Anim. Menageries, p. 360) as R. albicollis. A third species, R. flavirostris, inhabits Africa; and examples from South America, though by many writers regarded as identical with R. nigra, are considered by Howard Saunders (Proc. Zool. Society, 1882, p. 522) to form a fourth, the R. melanura of Swainson (ut supra, p. 340). All these 1 "I call it Skimmer, from the manner of its collecting its food with the lower mandible, as it flies along the surface of the water" (Gen. of Birds, p. 52).

Other English names applied to it in America are "Razorbill," "Scissorbill," and "Shearwater." resemble one another very closely, and, apart from their singularlyformed bill, have the structure and appearance of Terns (q.v.). Some authors make a family of the genus Rhynchops, but it seems needless to remove it from the Laridae (see GULL). In breeding-habits the Skimmers thoroughly agree with the Terns, the largest species of which group they nearly equal in size, and indeed only seem to differ from them in the mode of taking their food, which of course is correlated with the extraordinary formation of their bill. (A. N.)

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