Do you know what this bird is called?

by Jay Dixon | April 12, 2016

The black skimmer (Rynchops niger) is an endangered species within the state of New Jersey. In New Jersey, black skimmers nest on open sandy beaches, inlets, and offshore islands along the Atlantic Coast from Sandy Hook to Cape May. Black Skimmers are truly unique creatures. Did you know…

  • There are only three species of skimmer in the world and that the Black Skimmer is the only skimmer found in the Americas.
  • Folk names for the Black Skimmer include Seadog, Scissor-bill, and Cutwater.
  • Its unique hunting method has earned the skimmer its name. The skimmer glides low over the water, allowing its lower mandible to slice the water’s surface. When the bird’s bill strikes a fish, it snaps shut. The skimmer then aligns the prey headfirst before swallowing it whole.
  • Black Skimmers are active throughout the day, but are mainly crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk.
  • Skimmers nest in colonies from a few pairs to several hundred.
  • Black Skimmer pairs share parental duty. Males and females both incubate the eggs—in fact, male Black Skimmers even have brood patches. Both parents also brood the newborn chicks and feed the nestlings.
  • Before mating, the male skimmer presents his mate with a fish.
  • Black Skimmers have large vertically-oriented pupils like cats. Such pupils are unique in the bird world.
  • Although Black Skimmers spend most of their life near water, they do not swim.

This rare and beautiful shorebird is endangered because of disturbance to their habitat. The greatest disturbance to their habitat is the heavy recreational pressure of beaches along the Jersey Shore. Elevated levels of human activity at beaches may cause colony abandonment, lower nesting success, and increased predation risk. The skimmers’ well-camouflaged eggs and chicks are susceptible to trampling by vehicular or foot traffic in nesting areas. The use of vehicles on beaches creates ruts in the sand, where chicks may become trapped. The great volumes of people at the Jersey Shore during the summer months has forced skimmers to nest in remote, low-lying areas where they are more susceptible to tidal flooding. Flooding can result in washouts of nests, eggs, and young of entire colonies.

It is critical to the survival of this species that open sandy habitat is protected and left undisturbed. In August of 2014 GreenVest, along with its project partners at NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy of New Jersey and The Wetlands Institute, helped to create new habitat for black skimmers in the back bays of southern New Jersey. This habitat was built from sand in the Intracoastal Waterway. The sand was dredged from the waterway and delivered to Ring Island, a marsh island surrounded by the tidal creeks black skimmers love, where it was built up to an elevation above mean high water. This means that nests will not be flooded. Here black skimmer will have access to undisturbed prime nesting habitat. GreenVest is dedicated to finding creative solutions like this one. This effort to beneficially reuse dredged material for the creation of healthy, functioning coastal habitat is among the first of its kind in NJ and hopefully one of many more to come.

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