Coastal Conservation

New Records of Banded Skimmers in Key West

Thanks to a community scientist, critical bird band data charts movements of these iconic seabirds.

Banded Black Skimmer. Photo: Kristen Juran Photography.

As the sun set on Key West, Florida, Dr. Kristen Markovich spotted a mixed flock of Black Skimmers and gulls. Using the remaining light, she photographed the birds, zooming in to take a closer look. A green band attached to the bright orange leg of one of the skimmers caught her eye: “0B.”

Through this simple marker researchers made a discovery: the skimmer was less than a year old, but had made it all the way to Key West from its nest along Indian Rocks Beach, 230 miles away.

In 2015, Audubon Florida launched an ambitious banding program to uncover mysteries of the Black Skimmers, including population dynamics, who mated with who, and where the birds wintered when not breeding along Florida coastlines. Already the study has yielded surprising results, including one skimmer pair that has nested together for three years in a row, spending winters apart.

Skimmer 0B was banded by Audubon partner Dr. Beth Forys, Professor at Eckerd College, along with Audubon staff in Pinellas County about three weeks after hatching, when the birds can be safely handled.

“Black Skimmers are vulnerable to storms, sea level rise, and human development,” says Dr. Marianne Korosy, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Florida. “The more we know about their movements, the better we can protect them into the future.”

Dr. Markovich studied her initial photographs more carefully and was surprised and delighted to find another band with a yellow hue that reads: “L50.”

Forys recognized this individual skimmer as hailing all the way from New York. Originally banded in 2017, the bird successfully made it through two entire breeding seasons before heading south once more.

Before her photographs, only one banded skimmer had been reported in Key West – now there were three! Without the dedication and attention of community scientists like Dr. Markovich, it would be nearly impossible to track the Black Skimmers as they moved across coasts and continents.

Have you seen a banded bird? Email Dr. Korosy at mkorosy@audubon.org. With your help, we can protect this unique species now and into the future.

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