Black Skimmer

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The Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) is my favorite bird. It is a bird with incredible abilities. Below is a photo of a Black Skimmer that will help you see where it got the name “skimmer”:

Copyright 2010, David E. Shormann, PhD

As you can see in the photo below, the skimmer family (Rynchopidae) differs from all other bird families because their bottom mandible, or bill, is much longer than their upper mandible:

Copyright 2011, David E. Shormann, PhD

The longer, knifelike lower mandible, or bill, helps the Black Skimmer catch fish. The base of the bill is red-orange and the tip is black. The bird flies slowly along leeward shorelines, where wave action is less pronounced, and skims its lower bill just beneath the surface. Precision flying is required to keep the bill in the water for any distance, and the relatively long wings (up to 48 inches) of the skimmer, relative to its body (16-20 inches), help it maintain a level glide. Notice the long wings in the photo below:

Copyright 2011, David E. Shormann, PhD

When a fish hits the Black Skimmer’s lower bill, the bird’s head will automatically bend down and back, which traps the fish. The skimmer then flies up and swallows the fish. Here’s a short YouTube video by EstuaryLiveTV showing a Black Skimmer capturing a fish:

If the skimmer’s fish-catching techniques are not impressive enough, consider that it also does this at night! That is why its upper surface is black, to camouflage it for night-fishing. Also, notice when its bill is open, the only color a fish that is in front of it would see is black. It would not see the orange-red section. What an incredible design!

The skimmer family, Rynchopidae, consists of only two other species, one from Africa (R. flavirostris) and the other from Asia (R. Albicollis). All skimmers look essentially the same, with slight differences in color patterns and calls. All skimmers live along rivers and estuaries, and lay their eggs on open areas like sandy beaches and shell reefs. They typically nest in colonies, often with other birds like terns. Here is a video of a small Black Skimmer colony nesting in a remote section of East Matagorda Bay in Texas. Listen for the distinct “kaup” call of the Black Skimmer, compared to the terns that are also quite vocal:

Black Skimmers, like many other bird species (and like humans are supposed to do!), mate with one individual for life. After the eggs are laid, the couple takes turns incubating them. In the following photo, the mate farthest from the camera is incubating a pair of eggs:

Copyright 2011, David E. Shormann, PhD

According to the Outdoor Alabama website, the typical Black Skimmer clutch averages four eggs.   The pair above only had two eggs, and this could be because 1) the female still had more eggs to lay, or 2) storms washed the other eggs away. Black Skimmers along the Gulf of Mexico Coast typically lay their eggs in May, and the eggs take about 3 weeks to hatch. Here is a photo of this couple’s clutch in early May, 2011:

Copyright 2011, David E. Shormann, PhD

As you can tell, the eggs are designed to be camouflaged against their shelly background. See if you can find the same eggs in the photo below. Click on the photo to enlarge it:

Copyright 2011, David E. Shormann, PhD

Give up? They are in the top right corner of the photo.

If you are not impressed by the incredible design of the Black Skimmer, then I’m afraid nothing will impress you! In His goodness, God made this bird incredibly special and unique. Some bird groups, a.k.a. “baramins”, like warblers, have more diversity since the Genesis Flood, but not skimmers. Three “species” (maybe not really species?) exist worldwide. Skimmers catch dinner by skimming their enlarged lower mandible through shallow water, somehow avoiding all underwater obstacles (I’ve never seen a skimmer “crash!”), and they even do it on the blackest of  nights! They lay well-camouflaged eggs, and the parents, who mate for life, take turn incubating the eggs and raising the young. Awesome!

Click here for a coloring page of the Black Skimmer. Remember, the Black Skimmer is black on top, so use the thin line that is beneath the eye as your border between the black and white.

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4 Comments on “Black Skimmer”

  1. John Says:

    So… if this bird is the same design as the model originally created, why did the god of genesis build a bird with this sort of beak if all it ate was veggies pre-fall?

    (Unless of course god designed Adam and Eve to fall in the first place and knew this bird would need this sort of beak, in which case, why is this whole sin business our fault if he intended it that way?)

    • gensci Says:

      Who said anything about skimmers being the same design as the original model? They aren’t clones. I have no idea why God designed skimmers the way He did. I have no idea how He could have provided the genetics for skimmers to switch from being a plant-eater to mostly a meat-eater. I do have an idea though about how He provided Podarcis sicula with the ability to adapt from a mostly meat-eating diet on one island to a mostly plant-eating diet on another island, in the span of a few dozen years, and without detectable genetic differences. Not even changes in allele frequencies. He gave Podarcis the abillity to adapt. He probably gave skimmers the ability to adapt, too. Now, if you think skimmers evolved, where is your evidence for this? Do you have a fossil transition from non-skimmer to skimmer? Can you predict what skimmers will evolve into next?

      Sin is our fault because Adam and Eve made a poor choice. They had freedom to choose, and they chose poorly.

      • John Says:

        If is god altering the genetics of these creatures in the short term, why is it so hard to accept that he might be doing it over a long term as well? (Please understand I’m not arguing as a theist evolutionist. I think they’re off the mark as well, but at least they’re not ignoring gobs of evidence that tells us the earth is a very old planet, and that very clearly life has not always looked the way it does today)

      • gensci Says:

        I don’t think God is up in Heaven continually altering the genetics of organisms on Earth, but He could if He wanted. I think God designed the genetics to change some so that animals could adapt. It is obvious that species are not all clones of each other, and it is obvious that climates change, so it makes sense that God would design in some flexibility. The skimmer family (Rhyncopidae) is a good example of this, as there are three species around the world. They all look very similar, but obviously have changed some since creation. You are right, life has not always looked the way it does today. However, your idea is more of an unlimited change, while my idea says there are limits to genetic change. My idea is the one that modern genetic research validates, while your idea typically leads to cancer.

        The “gobs of evidence that tells us the Earth is a very old planet” is all unverifiable, which means it is not real science. If you want to verify those claims, then you will need a crystal ball and/or a time machine. I can’t use real science to verify a young Earth, and you can’t use real science to verify an old Earth. It is a historic argument, not a scientific one, don’t you agree?

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