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South Texas Birding: Learn about Black Skimmers

You might recognize them along the coastal waters with their long black wings and striking red and black bills, but research is showing Black Skimmers are in decline. Lindsay Brown, with the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program joined us to talk about her research.

Corpus Christi (Kiii News) — Black Skimmers are one of the most recognizable birds along the coast not only because of their appearance, but because they have a unique feeding behavior, where their lower bill skims just below the surface of water. They are around South Texas all year round. During the summer, you will find them nesting in colonies on isolated islands in the Laguna Madre, and you will find them more scattered throughout the shoreline in winter.

Breeding skimmers are declining along the coast. Texas once supported over 11,000 breeding pairs of skimmers and now there are fewer than 2,000 pairs. Other major breeding sites along the gulf such as Louisiana and Florida are also seeing this decline during the breeding season. To help understand factors that may contribute to this decline we applied small satellite tracking devices on a few individuals. This information will help us understand annual movements of the skimmers in Texas. Some individuals will migrate to Mexico and Central America, so these devices identify important migration and wintering sites and what types of environments they are exposed to during the nonbreeding season. These devices are solar powered so they last for multiple years, which will help us understand if they have a tendency to return to sites they occupied the previous year.

Well over the past several years we have been applying unique bands on skimmer adults and chicks. If anyone is out birding or bird watch and see skimmers try look closely at their legs and see if you can see a red band with white letters and numbers. If you do see a banded skimmer please contact us to report the band code, date and location. If it is one of our bands we will tell you when and where and age of the skimmer when it was banded. These re-sighting help us understand survival of individuals, and where they travel.

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