Coastal Conservation

Black Skimmer Lost-and-Found Mystery

After months apart each winter, this skimmer pair relocates each other three years running!

Surf hits the sand on Pinellas County beaches, the Gulf of Mexico acting as a beacon not only for sun-loving locals but also nesting sea and shorebirds. Spread out like a black-and-white picnic blanket on the beach, Black Skimmers create nearly invisible scoop nests in the sand and raise fluffy chicks every summer.

Audubon coastal biologists protect and steward state-Threatened Black Skimmer colonies nesting on urban Pinellas County beaches each year. Until recently, little information was known about the age, birthplace, and winter whereabouts of the nesting skimmers at these sites. In 2015 Audubon Florida -in partnership with Dr. Beth Forys of Eckerd College - began to band skimmer chicks in an ongoing effort to unravel the mysteries of their annual movements. In 2017, Audubon’s staff began banding skimmer chicks on Marco Island. With all the sighting records of banded birds since 2015, we know a lot more about the birds’ stories, especially that of bird A16 and A44.

In 2015, the very first season of bird banding in Pinellas, a female skimmer hatched at St. Pete Beach and was given band code A16. Nearby, banders assigned a male skimmer at Indian Shores the band code A44. Just two years later, the pair formed a bond. While skimmers first attempt nesting at two years old, they aren’t always successful the first time around. When they failed along Indian Shores in 2017, they parted ways; A44 remained in Pinellas County for the duration of the winter, while A16 opted for Marco Island.

In spring 2018, after months apart, the pair found each other once again. They were initially spotted at Indian Shores, but moved a bit north to the Sand Key colony together to breed. Again, the pair proved unsuccessful - this time due to coyote predation - and moved back to Indian Shores later in the season.

Black Skimmers can make a second attempt at nesting when their first results in no fledged chicks, but when the pair moved to Indian Shores they met with no luck. For a second time, A44 and A16 spent the winter months apart. 

In spring 2019, the two birds again relocated each other in urban Pinellas County. Initially, they spent time at Clearwater Beach but moved to Indian Rocks Beach to nest for the season in late May. The pair incubated their three eggs dutifully and by late June, their chicks successfully hatched!

Audubon staff continue to monitor the movements of the birds, and progress of the fledglings and the other chicks, across the Florida coastline.

Learn more about Audubon Florida’s coastal conservation program.

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