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In Our Backyard: Black Skimmers Are an Uncommon Sight

We didn't expect to see skimmers on our excursion. They're an uncommon sight.

Summertime is beach time. A couple weeks ago we went to the Rhode Island coast to swim in the warmer water there and to look for shore birds. One of the many great things about Westborough is its location on so many major roads. We can be anywhere from the mountains to the coast in a couple of hours. All of southern New England with so many different habitats is in our backyard.

Like many of our birds, many shorebirds are seasonal long-distance migrants only here for a short time. Black skimmers are one of our shorter-distance migrants, only going as far south as Central America. They are also one of our most distinctive shorebirds, looking like nothing else. In fact they don't look like they belong on our coast at all, with their large red and black bills and their lower bill much longer than their upper.

We didn't expect to see skimmers on our excursion. They're an uncommon sight. But the real treat was seeing them in action. They fly along skimming the surface of the water with their razor-thin lower bill slicing through it. When they contact a minnow their upper bill snaps shut, capturing the fish which they swallow on the wing. Their grace in the air is mesmerizing.

Like many shorebirds, black skimmers nest on the beach, often the same beaches we enjoy in the summertime. Of course they aren't very tolerant of our recreational activities near their nests. If we are to continue to enjoy them we must share the beach with them and other shore-nesting birds. In some communities this has been controversial at first, but my experience is that it quickly becomes accepted as people come to enjoy the bird communities that their beaches host.

See more skimmer photos here. Click on "Next" in the upper right corner of the page to step through the photos.

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Sharon Dankwardt August 15, 2011 at 01:22 AM
Nice Pictures! I haven't seen any skimmers out here yet, but saw quite a few when we lived in the SF bay area.

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