|Greg Lavaty | profile | all galleries >> My Blog >> Are These Guys Bathing? A Quick Peek into the Life of the Black Skimmer 08-07-2012||tree view | thumbnails | slideshow|
Unlike the skimmerís closest relatives, the terns, who hunt by sight, the Black Skimmer hunts by touch. This technique involves the bird flying very low over the water with mouth open, dragging its knife-like lower mandible in the water. Long slender wings give the skimmer the stability required to fly so close to the water over long distances without crashing. Foraging birds often fly back and forth over shallow water many times depending on a chance encounter with a fish near the waterís surface. Once the beak hits a fish the birdís head snaps under its body and its mouth snaps shut, grasping the prey. Once the meal is secure in the skimmerís beak, the bird flips it in the air and swallows it.
Another interesting feature of the Black Skimmer is its pupil, which opens vertically like that of a cat. The skimmerís eye is well adapted for seeing in low light. This is important since the birdís specialized hunting methods require high densities of fish near the surface of the water, a situation that mostly occurs late in the evening, early in the morning and at night. Skimmers donít need to see their prey to catch them but they do need to see where they are going to avoid collisions.
On the upper Texas coast Black Skimmers are fairly common within 100 miles of the Gulf of Mexico and are rarely seen further inland with the highest density along the immediate coast. Skimmers are year around residents and breed here during the spring and summer. Courtship flights can be very beautiful as you can see in this photo taken at the Texas City Dike.
Yesterday when I was out visiting the Brazoria NWR I observed some interesting behavior. At first a single immature skimmer was flying back and forth in front of me. Each time the bird got down near the water it crashed into the water. This happened repeatedly and I started to think that maybe the bird was so young and inexperienced that it might be trying to hunt but hasdít built its flying skills well enough to do it properly. As I continued to observe and reviewed some of my photos it appeared that the bird was intentionally crashing into the water.
Before long, three adult skimmers joined the youngster over the pond. One of the adult birds also started crashing into the water in the same fashion as the young bird. About this time the young bird stopped crashing into the water and started skimming in the typical way. My interpretation of all of this was that the birds were bathing on the wing.
To see more Black Skimmer photos please look here: