Birds of Ocracoke Series

Birds of Ocracoke: the Black Skimmer

Black Skimmers. Photo by P. Vankevich

Black Skimmers. Photo by P. Vankevich

To see more profiles in the Birds of Ocracoke series, click here 

Rynchops niger

Text and Photos by Peter Vankevich 

This spectacular bird is a delight to observe on Ocracoke. It is easily identifiable by it long wings, black upperparts and white underneath. The lower mandible of the bill is longer the upper.

Best time to see:  Late spring, summer, early fall. Rare to absent in winter.

Where:  In flight over island and surrounding waters, Springer’s Point, and seen from ferries resting on sand bars and dredge islands. They can be seen close up skimming the water in front of the breakers along the beach, especially around two hours after the high tide cycle, as well as in the early morning and evening.  They favor crepuscular feeding.

Listen:  
(audio provided courtesy of OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons)

NotesBlack Skimmer PS 2014-07-06 15.55.13-1

Black Skimmers nest in the South Point area of Ocracoke and on nearby dredge islands.  Last year, Hurricane Arthur which landed in early July on Ocracoke wiped out the nesting colony at the South Point.  Only one or two chicks were seen afterwards.

They will often congregate in large numbers in late summer/early fall, especially near the Ocracoke ferry dock area of Hatteras Inlet as they prepare for migration.

What is remarkable is its bill.  Even without the aid of binoculars, you may be able to notice that the lower mandible is about one third longer than the upper mandible. This unique structure is ideal for its foraging technique of skimming the surface for small fish and crustaceans.  When the lower mandible touches its prey, the upper bill (maxilla) snaps down to catch it.

These are the only known birds to have pupils capable of being narrowed to vertical slits as one would see in the eyes of a cat. It is believed that this may help protect the retina from damage during their feeding activities when light reflection can be very strong.

To read more about  the birds of Ocracoke, click here. We plan on eventually featuring 100 or more species.

To view the Birds of the Outer Banks checklist, click here .