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Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)


The Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) is a colonial nesting seabird whose breeding range spans the Americas from 40˚N to 38˚S. In North America, the Black Skimmer ranges across the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and along the Gulf of Mexico. Atlantic Coast populations are in decline and threatened with continuing nesting habitat loss and urbanization of the coast line. Several states have listed the Black Skimmer as a species of conservation concern (NY) and State Endangered (FL). 


Research Goals

We have several projects focused upon the Black Skimmer:

1. Black Skimmer migration along the Atlantic Coast of North America

2. Fine scale movements of the Black Skimmer during the breeding season in New York: associations with water quality and diet characterization

3. Comparative analyses of Black Skimmer reproduction across the Americas using the Pace-of-Life framework

4. Understanding population connectivity of the Black Skimmer across the Americas using movements and molecular methods


Research Results

Projects 2, and 4 are still underway!

Project 1 Results:

Numerous studies describe environmental influences upon avian migration wherein individual migrants advance or delay arrival at their destination by varying the speed and/or duration of migration. Results of the study suggest the Black Skimmer minimizes energy expenditure in the autumn with slower migration speed, flight speed, and extended use of stop over locations. During the spring, the Black Skimmer switches to a time-minimization strategy with faster migration speed, faster flight speeds, and decreased duration of rest stops. Although there were no differences in distances traveled, there were sex-related differences in stopover dynamics. Males generally left wintering grounds earlier and spent more time at stop over locations, whereas females left later and spent less time at stopover locations. When wind conditions during flight were matched with data from the previous year, there was evidence of selection for calm conditions Finally, skimmers used a mixture of traditional stopovers and brief “fly-forage” breaks to acquire energy during migration.

Project 3 results: 

Manu skimmers fall on the fast end of the pace-of-life spectrum rather than the predicted slower pace expected for tropical species. High food availability coupled with a tenuous nesting situation appear to select for individuals that exploit abundant food resources and maximize chick growth rates, such that a reduced growth period limits exposure to floods and predators. The result is a pace of life that mimics that of many northern bird populations, wherein food is seasonally abundant but only for a short period of time. Chicks mature faster in Manu NP- in fact they fledge up to 10 days faster!

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