Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

With its uniquely shaped bill, the African skimmer flies low over calm water, with the long lower 'blade' of the bill dipping into the water (3). The bill snaps shut when it touches a fish (4), which is then swallowed in flight or after landing (2). African skimmers feed mostly at dusk, dawn and during the night, and rest during the warmer day when their fish prey is less likely to be at the surface of the water (3). Pairs of African skimmers nest in loose colonies on expansive sandbanks (3), where they lay a clutch of two to three eggs over several days, into a scrape in the sand (2). The eggs are incubated, primarily by the female, for around 21 days, after which the buffy-white chicks hatch (2). In the blistering heat of their sub-Saharan African habitat, African skimmers have been observed dampening their breast feathers in the water before returning to the nest to wet and cool their eggs or young (3). The chicks, whose plumage is peppered with small black dots, are fed fish by both parents until they fledge at around four weeks (2). In West and East Africa, eggs are laid generally from March to June, while south of the equator, laying occurs from July to November (2). The colonies of eggs are vulnerable to being trampled by hippopotami and elephants and to raising river water levels which could destroy an entire colony (2).
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Description

The African skimmer cuts a striking silhouette as it flies with slow wingbeats over the rivers and lakes of sub-Saharan Africa. Its long, black, scimitar-shaped wings and the distinctive structure of its long, bright orange bill tipped with yellow gives the African skimmer an air of the prehistoric (3). The lower half of the bill is much longer than the upper half and flattened like scissor blades (4). The plumage on the back and crown is jet black, contrasting sharply with the white underparts, forehead and short, forked tail. Its monochromatic body colouring makes the vividly coloured bill and bright red legs all the more arresting (3).
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Distribution

Range Description

Rynchops flavirostris is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, but is largely confined when breeding to large, dry sandbars in broad rivers and some lakes, below 1,800 m (Coppinger et al. 1988). It is less restricted in the non-breeding season, dispersing to rivers, lakes and coasts in countries as widespread as Egypt, Gambia and Botswana. Large concentrations (including breeding birds) occur along the Zambezi River (F. Dowsett-Lemaire and R. J. Dowsett in litt. 2000), e.g. 1,428 individuals (Coppinger et al. 1988), and non-breeding flocks of at least 1,000 individuals have been recorded in Tanzania and Kenya. The population is estimated to number 15,000-25,000 birds (with 7,000-13,000 in West and Central Africa and 8,000-12,000 in East Africa and South Africa) (T. Dodman 2002 in litt. to Wetlands International 2002), and the species is thought to be declining (Zusi 1996).

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Western, Central and Eastern Africa: Senegal - Ethiopia south through W and S Kenya to Tropic of Capricorn.

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Range

Major rivers, lakes and coasts of Africa south of the Sahara.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Range

Occurs in sub-Saharan Africa; from Senegal, east to Ethiopia, and south to Namibia and Botswana (1) (2).
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Physical Description

Diagnostic Description

Description

Length: 36-40 cm. Plumage: whole of back and wings black; forehead and trailing edge of secondaries in spread wing white; below white; some white speckling on nape and forecrown in non-breeding bird, demarcation between white forehead and black crown clearcut in breeding bird; tail whitish. Immature much duller with buff edges to feathers of head and upperparts. Bare parts: iris brown; bill with shorter upper mandible vermilion, much longer lower mandible orange merging to yellow at tip; feet and legs vermilion. Habitat: coastal lagoons and estuaries. Endemic resident and intra-African migrant. <389><391><393>
  • Urban, E.K., C.H. Fry & S. Keith (1986). The Birds of Africa, Volume II. Academic Press, London.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Behaviour The species migrates up and down larger rivers, and to and from inland lakes (del Hoyo et al. 1996), dispersing widely after the breeding season (Tyler 2004). Migration is driven by the need for calm weather (Urban et al. 1986). Breeding takes place during the dry season when rivers are at their lowest and sandbars most exposed (del Hoyo et al. 1996). This generally occurs from March to June in West and East Africa, and mainly from July to November south of the equator (del Hoyo et al. 1996). In Nigeria the species disperses up to 600km from its breeding sites in June - August (Urban et al. 1986), moving mainly downstream (Urban et al. 1986). It returns in November or December, coinciding with the onset of strong winds in its non-breeding areas (Urban et al. 1986). Breeding occurs in small colonies of up to 50 pairs (Tyler 2004). During the non-breeding season larger flocks are formed, sometimes of up to 1500 birds (Tyler 2004). Habitat This species requires expanses of calm water for feeding (Urban et al. 1986). Breeding It breeds along broad rivers on large, dry sandbars that are largely free from vegetation (Urban et al. 1986). It sometimes breeds on sandy lake shores, and very occasionally on sandy sea shores (Urban et al. 1986). Non-breeding During the non-breeding season it is more commonly found at lakes (Urban et al. 1986) and also frequents coastal lagoons, salt-pans, open marshes and estuaries (Urban et al. 1986, del Hoyo et al. 1996). It is less common along coasts (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Vagrant birds may use swamps and artificial habitats such as sewage ponds and dams (Urban et al. 1986). Diet It feeds on fish, such as cichlids (del Hoyo et al. 1996), foraging exclusively in the fashion characteristic of the family Rynchopidae, namely by skimming the water in flight with its mouth open and lower mandible submerged (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Breeding site Eggs are laid in an unlined scrape in the sand (Urban et al. 1986, del Hoyo et al. 1996). Scrapes occurs within 2-14m of one another (Urban et al. 1986) and are initially created within 30m of the water (Urban et al. 1986), though falling water levels may increase this distance (Urban et al. 1986). The clutch-size is two or three, rarely four, and the incubation period is c.21 days followed by a fledging period of about four weeks (del Hoyo et al. 1996).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
  • Marine
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Rivers at low water, open marshes, less common at coast (Lack 2010).

Expanses of calm water for feeding (BirdLife International 2011); breeding along broad rivers on large, dry sandbars that are largely free from vegetation (sometimes on sandy lake shores, and very occasionally on sandy sea shores).

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coastal regions (and inland)
  • UNESCO-IOC Register of Marine Organisms
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The African skimmer inhabits broad rivers, coastal lagoons, open marshes and lakes, resting and breeding on large, dry sandbars and beaches (1) (2).
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Dispersal

Movements and dispersal

Resident

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Trophic Strategy

It feeds on fish, foraging exclusively in the fashion characteristic of the family Rynchopidae, namely by skimming the water in flight with its mouth open and lower mandible submerged.

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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
NT
Near Threatened

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s
Baker, L., Baker, N., Claffey, P., Dodman, T., Dowsett, R., Dowsett-Lemaire, F., Hall, P., Rommens, W. & Tyler, S.

Justification
This species is listed as Near Threatened owing to its moderately small population. If the population was found to be small and experiencing an ongoing decline, the species may qualify for a higher threat category.

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Near Threatened

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Status in Egypt

Resident breeder? and regular passage visitor.

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Status

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).
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Population

Population
There are 7,000-13,000 in West and Central Africa and 8,000-12,000 in East Africa and South Africa (T. Dodman in litt. 2002), giving a total of 15,000-25,000 individuals, roughly equivalent to 10,000-17,000 mature individuals.

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Dam-building has flooded some upstream areas and reduced downstream flows, destroying suitable habitat (Urban et al. 1986, Coppinger et al. 1988, Ginn et al. 1989). Farming practices have also caused siltation of many rivers, raising river levels and swamping breeding islands (Urban et al. 1986, Ginn et al. 1989). Egg-collecting, trapping of adults and general disturbance by humans, cattle and recently increased boat traffic can be serious problems in some areas (Britton 1980, Coppinger et al. 1988, Tyler and Stone 2000). Disruption by recreational fishermen may impact breeding colonies in the Okavango Panhandle, and local fishermen have been reported using chicks as bait (Vial 1995; cited in Hancock 2008). Food supplies may have been reduced by pollution, overfishing and introduced predatory fish, but it is unclear whether this has affected its prey of small fry (fish) (Tyler and Stone 2000). Large-scale spraying of DDT and general water pollution may result in toxic bioaccumulation of pollutants in these piscivores (Coppinger et al. 1988).

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Numbers of the African skimmer are believed to be declining (1); the result of numerous impacts on their wetland habitat. The construction of dams has flooded habitats upstream and altered the flow downstream, destroying suitable breeding habitat. The spraying of DDT to control malarial mosquitoes, tsetse flies and agricultural pests, along with other water pollutants, accumulates in fish and can be damaging to fish-eating birds such as the African skimmer. Humans and cattle can disturb colonies with fatal consequences for eggs and chicks, and the collection of eggs also occurs in some areas. The African skimmer may also be impacted through declines in their food supply caused by pollution, over-fishing and the effects of introduced predatory fish (1) (2).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Conservation Actions Underway
No actions targeted at this species are known.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Clarify population status and trends by monitoring breeding populations annually and assessing breeding success. Conduct public awareness campaign regarding its conservation needs, both through ecotourism to areas such as the Okavango delta, and through local grassroots environmental education (Tyler and Stone 2000).

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Conservation

The African skimmer is listed on the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA). Parties to the agreement, which include Ghana, Gambia, Kenya and Nigeria, are called upon to engage in a wide range of conservation actions (5). It has been recommended that further studies are undertaken to clarify the population status and trends of the African skimmer, in addition to raising public awareness of this eye-catching bird's conservation needs (1).
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Wikipedia

African Skimmer

The African skimmer (Rynchops flavirostris) is a near-threatened species of bird belonging to the skimmer family. It is found along rivers, lakes and lagoons in Sub-Saharan Africa.[1]

Appearance[edit]

African skimmers and white-winged terns at Kazinga Channel, Uganda

They have very long wings. The back, hindneck, and crown are black. The forehead and rest of the body is white, with a bright, long, orange beak that ends with a yellow tip (black tip in immatures). Their short forked tail is white, and their legs are bright red. The average size is about 38 cm (15 in) long. Their voice is a sharp "kip-kip". Their bill structure is unique. The lower mandible is much longer than the upper mandible, and flattened sideways like scissor blades.

Distribution[edit]

The African skimmer is found from Senegal to northern Congo River and southern Nile Valley, southern Tanzania to the Zambezi Valley, and then to KwaZulu-Natal Province (South Africa) and Angola. They live at large tropical rivers with sandbanks, lake shores, and coastal lagoons. The African skimmer is generally uncommon and the total populations is estimated at 15,000-25,000 individuals.[1]

Behavior[edit]

African skimmers fly in lines over calm waters, and dip their lower mandibles in the water to feed.[1] When the mandible touches a fish, the skimmer snaps its mouth shut. They feed mostly at dawn and dusk.

Reproduction[edit]

Pairs nest in loose colonies on large sandbanks. The colonies typically consist of less than 50 pairs and each pair lays 2–3 (rarely 4) eggs in a scrape in the sand.[1]

References[edit]

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