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The skimmers, Rynchopidae, are a small family of tern-like birds in the order Charadriiformes, which also includes the waders, gulls and auks. The family comprises three species found in South Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
The three species are the only birds with distinctive uneven bills with the lower mandible longer than the upper. This remarkable adaptation allows them to fish in a unique way, flying low and fast over streams. Their lower mandible skims or slices over the water's surface ready to snap shut any small fish unable to dart clear. The skimmers are sometimes included within the gull family Laridae but separated in other treatments which consider them as a sister group of the terns. The black skimmer has an additional adaptation and is the only species of bird known to have slit-shaped pupils. Their bills fall within their field of binocular vision and enable them to carefully position their bill and capture prey. They are agile in flight and gather in large flocks along rivers and coastal sand banks.
They are tropical and subtropical species which lay 3–6 eggs on sandy beaches. The female incubates the eggs. Because of the species' restricted nesting habitat the three species are vulnerable to disturbance at their nesting sites. One species, the Indian skimmer, is considered vulnerable by the IUCN due to this as well as destruction and degradation of the lakes and rivers it uses for feeding.
The genus name Rynchops is often misspelled Rhynchops (as in some of the later editions of the works of Linnaeus), though the first version is taxonomically valid, being Linnaeus's original spelling.
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