WatchList Species Account for Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)

Qualifies for the list as a Declining Yellow List Species

Black Skimmer. Photo:
Photo: Greg Lavaty

Black Skimmers are faithful to sites where large and successful colonies have nested for years. These sites are often mixed colonies with various species of terns. Small colonies usually relocate.


The Black Skimmer is highly social not only during breeding but during the rest of the year, when it forms large flocks. The birds are largely crepuscular and even nocturnal, though they are also active throughout the day.


During nesting it prefers shell bars or open areas of sand or gravel on salt marsh islands. Much of its beach habitat has been developed for commerce, residences or recreation. In North Carolina most of the nests are on dredge spoil islands or other human-made or altered sites.


Breeding range on the Atlantic Coast is from Massachusetts to Florida and along the Gulf Coast to northern Mexico; the western population breeds at the Salton Sea and along the coast of Orange and San Diego Counties. In winter it is found in small numbers from the Carolinas along the Gulf Coast to Panama.


Though once regarded as vulnerable and declining, recent evidence shows that its population has stabilized in much of its range. A major threat is human disturbance during nesting; off-road vehiclesalso pose a threat, requiring total closing of some beaches for the entire breeding season. Beach closure through educational signs and patrolling by wardens to keep dogs out during breeding benefit the bird.