Life of a Young Black Skimmer

by Kim Scottaline, Mid-Pinellas County Anchor Steward.

Growing up as a Black Skimmer is never easy, especially on a busy Florida beach where suitable habitat is scarce. Dunes are eroded, storm surge is a constant threat, predators are numerous, and you must be on alert for people coming too close. Sometimes you wish you never had to leave your egg. But staying in an egg has its downfalls, too: Within the confines of the hard outer shell, you could be picked up by a hungry gull, crow, or crab. Best to break through and take your chances.

The Other Side!

You’re a Black Skimmer hatchling and now it’s time for a whole new set of wonders to explore and obstacles to overcome. Those first breaths of salty ocean air are nourishing and exhilarating, and the surrounding colony is bustling and loud. Mom and Dad are close by and ready to protect, defend, feed, and provide shade. Not all chicks are lucky enough to get this far. An egg or young chick left unattended will not last long in the hot sun. Parents being flushed away from their nest by a rogue beachball or any other disturbance could easily overheat eggs or make them an easy snack for a predator.

The Nestling Objective

Eat, poop, grow as quickly as possible, and most importantlydon’t get eaten. Easier said than done. Gulls love to grab nestlings given the chance. Defenseless and chock-full of fishy nutrients, you are irresistible to predators if they are stealthy (or big) enough to slink past your parents.

The Fledgling Objective

Learn to fly. At this stage, you have begun to develop flight feathers and will try with great effort to jump and flap your wings. With some practice and perseverance,  you find the right gust of wind and take the first flight. At this point, you are too big for most predators to snagfree to roam to the shoreline as long as your parents are nearby to keep an eye on things. If you are bothered, the culprit can expect to be swiftly dive-bombed by your protective parents.

The Juvenile Objective

Learn to fish. Black Skimmers have developed a unique method for fishing. You fly within inches of the water's surface and dip your longer, lower mandible into the water, and skim in long lines. Once your sensitive bill contacts a fish, it quickly snaps down and the fish becomes a meal. This is a vital life skill important for survival for a Black Skimmer. It is not instinctive, so you must observe your parents and practice.

After practicing skimming in small puddles near the shore, you are almost ready to put your practice to the test. Foraging mostly during the early morning or at night when the waters are calm, you follow your parents out to the open water watching and learning to fish.


No, it’s not easy being a Black Skimmer. They have numerous threats to overcome, but we can help! Join our volunteer flock and work with Audubon staff to protect skimmers until they are ready to fly safely into the world.

How you can help, right now