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COASTAL CRITTER:BLACK SKIMMER (Rynchops niger)

DESCRIPTION:No other bird in the United States feeds like the Black Skimmer, but then, no other bird has an upsidedown beak.  The lower half of the Black Skimmer's beak is longer than the upper half.  A long-winged coastal bird, it flies over the shallow coastal water with its red, black-tipped beak skimming the water to seize small fish with a sudden SNAP!  The beak is shaped like a knife blade and is sharp enough to cut paper.  To recover from the wear-and-tear caused from running into rocks, shells, and other hard objects while feeding, the lower half of the Skimmer's beak continues to grow.  

HABITAT/ECOLOGY:   A Black Skimmer is a coastal shorebird that typically lives in a colony (a group of similar birds) on beaches and islands.  It spends the winter in the southern part of Florida and returns to northwest Florida for nesting in early spring.  It prefers to nest in the soft, white Santa Rosa Island sand on isolated beaches.  It has few predators (natural enemies) and is at the top of its food chain (the passage of energy from the sun to producers and consumers as organisms feed on one another).  For example, the Black Skimmer's food chain begins when the sun causes phytoplankton to grow, which is eaten by tiny fish, which are eaten by larger fish, which are then eaten by the skimmer.

CONSERVATION:Because the Black Skimmer prefers to nest on sandy beaches, human activity frequently disturbs their nesting sites.  This forces the bird to nest in unnatural environments, such as the tops of buildings.

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