Skimmers

July 27, 2016

Ornithologists Drs. Joanna Burger and Michael Gochfeld wrote of Black Skimmers in their landmark book -- The Black Skimmer: Social Dynamics of a Colonial Species --"We would have enjoyed the spectacle of coastal seaboard colonies of the early 1800s when birds rose like flakes of snow as explores passed down the beaches.  The sadness we experience when we visit a colony that has been wiped out by flooding or predation or particularly by human disturbance, makes us glad that we were not witnesses through the period of devastating exploitation from 1840 to 1900."

I can only imagine the skimmer colonies of the early 1800s along the North Carolina coast when skimmers and terns nested in great abundance.  They took advantage of the best habitat that was shaped by storms and did not have the threat of chronic disturbances and super-abundant predators, nor were they pursued relentlessly for their skins and feathers. It must have been great to see. 

Black Skimmers continue to nest on beaches and do well in areas where they are protected from disturbance and predators, and where they have the appropriate habitat.  Unfortunately, the habitat available to them is greatly reduced and so are their numbers in many states.  They are now relegated largely to the ends of some barrier islands and predator-free, remote islands.  They often are only able to net successfully when they are diligently protected and even then they are vulnerable to flooding during storms.  Even with protection of many nesting sites, the species is still listed as a species of concern in most states.

I feel fortunate to be able to visit a skimmer colony on occasion and watch these great birds as they nest and raise their chicks. These are the lucky ones because they are protected by the National Audubon Society and a large group of dedicated volunteers who keep a watchful eye on the nesting site.


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