Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)


French: Bec-en-ciseaux noir German: Amerikanischer Scherenschnabel Spanish: Rayador americano

Rynchops nigra


, 1758,

America = coast of South Carolina


Closely related to R. flavirostris and R. albicollis, and in past all three sometimes treated as conspecific. Races cinerascens and intercedens formerly considered to constitute two further species on account of white, as opposed to dusky, on wing-linings and tail, and amount of white edging on secondaries; variability of these characters is, however, more consistent with subspecific differentiation. Form oblita (coastal Guatemala) is regarded as a synonym of nominate; intermedia (W South America) normally included within cinerascens, and proposed race melanura is synonymous with cinerascens. Specific name changed from nigra to niger when all genera ending in -ops were ruled as being of masculine gender. Three subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • R. n. niger Linnaeus, 1758 – coasts of USA (S California; Massachusetts to Texas) and Mexico (Sonora to Nayarit; Tamaulipas to Yucatán Peninsula); winters from California and North Carolina S to both coasts of Panama.
  • R. n. cinerascens Spix, 1825 – coasts of Colombia E to mouth of R Amazon and S to W Ecuador (Gulf of Guayaquil), and large river systems (especially Orinoco and Amazon) S to Bolivia and NW Argentina; winters on coasts, from Ecuador to S Chile and from Panama to Trinidad and NC Brazil.
  • R. n. intercedens H. Saunders, 1895 – large rivers of E Brazil (W to Maranhão and E Mato Grosso), E Paraguay, Uruguay and NE Argentina (S to Bahía Blanca); winters mainly on coast.
  • Descriptive notes

    41–46 cm; male 308–374 g, culmen 64–74 mm; female 232–295 g, culmen 52–65 mm; wingspan 107–127 cm. Unmistakable within range. Differs from... read more


    A nasal, slightly hollow laughing “kyuh” or “kwuh” and a disyllabic “k’nuk” or “k’wuk”; calling... read more


    Mainland coast or barrier islands on sandy beaches, sandbars, shell banks, dredge islands and... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mainly fish, e.g. in USA, silversides (Menidia), killifish (Fundulus), minnows (Cyprinodon), mullet (Mugil... read more


    Nominate race arrive on breeding grounds mid Mar to early May, laying from late May, or as late as Sept when renesting. Elsewhere, race... read more


    Migratory. Northernmost breeding zones vacated during Nov–Mar, birds wintering sparsely S... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Global population size unknown as there are no available estimates for race cinerascens. The other South American race may... read more

    Recommended citation

    Zusi, R.L. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2019). Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger). 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 27 May 2019).