Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Near Threatened

African Skimmer (Rynchops flavirostris)


French: Bec-en-ciseaux d’Afrique German: Afrikanischer Scherenschnabel Spanish: Rayador africano

Rhynchops [sic] flavirostris


, 1816,

“Australasie”; error = Senegal


Closely related to R. niger and R. albicollis; some authors have suggested that all three might be conspecific, but good evidence apparently lacking. Monotypic.


Major rivers and lakes of Africa S of Sahara, from Senegal E to Sudan and SW Ethiopia and S to extreme N Namibia (R Cunene), N Botswana, basin of R Zambezi and S Mozambique; may have bred in S Egypt (on L Nasser) in 1987. Non-breeding visitor NW to R Gambia and Egyptian stretches of R Nile.

Descriptive notes

36–42 cm; 111–204 g; wingspan c. 106 cm; culmen of male 61–70 mm, of female 51–62 mm. Unmistakable within range. Smaller than congeners; differs from... read more


Generally vocalizes rather infrequently, most usually in flight and principally around colonies: a... read more


Rivers at low water, coastal lagoons, saltpans, open marshes, lakes; less common along coast. Rests... read more

Food and feeding

Fish, e.g. cichlids, up to 8 cm long. Crepuscular and nocturnal, as well as diurnal. Food caught exclusively by skimming the water in... read more


Laying generally Mar–Jun in W & E Africa, mainly Jul–Nov S of equator (e.g. Aug–Nov in Botswana); season varies... read more


Migrates up and down larger rivers, and to and from inland lakes, over distances of up to at least... read more

Status and conservation

Not globally threatened. Currently considered to be Near Threatened and probably in decline. Recently listed on Appendix 2 of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory... read more

Recommended citation

Zusi, R.L., Kirwan, G.M. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2019). African Skimmer (Rynchops flavirostris). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 7 December 2019).