Mystery Bird: Black Skimmer, Rynchops niger

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[Mystery bird] Black Skimmer, Rynchops niger, photographed at Quintana and Bryan Beaches, Texas. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]
Image: Joseph Kennedy, 3 September 2008 [larger view].
Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/350s f/8.0 at 1000.0mm iso400.


Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
Another immature gull: abandon hope, abandon this quiz, and let’s go do something useful! Persist, though, and we’ll find some odd things about this bird that make it easy to identify — while those of us who just come back to read the answer will have one of those forehead-slapping, eye-rolling, “Duh” moments that fill my day.
Since this bird’s head is tucked safely into its back feathers, it makes even better sense than usual for us to start at the other end of the bird, where we’re immediately impressed by just how long-winged this creature is. I can’t pick out any of the tail, but I do see the distal border of the undertail coverts, and the folded wing stretches way, way, way back beyond them. Is there any gull with wings this long? I can’t think of one.
Then look at how long those legs are. This is starting to be a very strange-looking bird, incredibly long in the horizontal, precariously balanced on toothpicks set far front of center. We may as well see if there are any head markings to help us. There aren’t, really, but look at the size of that head! What weird cobbled-together beast are we looking at here?
Well, what’s the weirdest, most cobbled-together beast in the North American avifauna? If it doesn’t occur to you right away, have a look at the left edge of the photo, where this bird’s family is gathered. This is a Black Skimmer, an outlandishly long-winged, horizontal, block-headed beachbird. Elegantly black and white in adult plumage, the juveniles have extremely intricate patterns above, recalling the ornate juvenile plumages of some of the terns, their closest relatives.
Review all mystery birds to date.

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About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Mystery Bird: Black Skimmer, Rynchops niger

  1. Laurie Foss says:

    Juvenile Black Skimmer

  2. JohnB says:

    What Laurie said. Although the bird in the background was a good hint.