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Black Skimmer Nesting

black skimmer nestingAny visit to Florida’s beaches gives you surf, sun, and skimmers! Black skimmers, a bird named for their color and their feeding habits, are a year-round resident of Florida’s shores. They are one of Florida’s largest shorebirds with a wingspan of about 14 inches. Just like their cousins, terns and gulls, their wings form a “bent-elbow” shape that makes soaring on the ocean breezes, well, a breeze!

While other beach-going birds hunt primarily by sight, black skimmers catch their meals using touch. A closer look at a black skimmer reveals a bottom bill, or “mandible,” that’s longer than its top bill. As they glide above the waves, skimmers dip their bottom mandible into the water, snapping their bill shut when they touch something that could be food.

Black skimmers and other shorebirds make their spring and summertime nest on bare sand. A mated pair will make indents in the sand called “scrapes” that serve as the pair’s nest. As anyone who’s been to the beach without an umbrella can say, the beach can be a brutal place without protection from the elements. Black skimmer parents provide shade and defend the nest from any threats. Once the chick is ready to hunt on its own, the parents will walk them to the water to show them how it’s done!

Black skimmers and their shorebird cousins have been under threat for centuries. Previously harvested for their eggs and feathers, skimmer populations were sent plummeting. Unfortunately, development of natural beaches and increased beach traffic means these birds still need our help. You can become a bird steward by keeping your dog out of “no dog” areas. While your pooch may not mean any harm, a spirited charge at nesting birds can cause parents to leave their nest-guarding shift, and the birds may peck at your pet to ward it away. Be mindful of nesting areas when playing sports, flying your kite, riding your bike, or even taking a walk by the shore. Parents taking their chicks on a fishing trip need a clean, flat, and peaceful pathway from the nest to the water.

Learn more about black skimmers and other shorebirds in Florida at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s black skimmer page. You can also learn more about the natural history of skimmers and ways to protect them at the Audubon’s black skimmer webpage.