This website uses cookies to provide a rich user experience. Please consult our Cookie Policy to learn about what cookies this website uses, or to control the cookies you receive. You need do nothing if you are happy to receive cookies.
Look and Learn History Picture Library License images from £2.99 Pay by PayPal for images for immediate download Member of British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA)

The skilful skimmer bird is also called the scissor bill

Posted in Birds, Fish, Nature, Sea, Wildlife on Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Click on any image for details about licensing for commercial or personal use.

This edited article about the skimmer bird originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 714 published on 20 September 1975.

S American wildlife, picture, image, illustration

The Black Skimmer Bird (top, left)

The simple nest contained three chicks. It was nothing more than a hollow in the sand by the edge of a wide river and all around were hundreds of similar nests with the sitting birds all facing the same way. The chicks were well camouflaged with brown and buff coloured down and they were all made even more inconspicous because they had burrowed down into the sand until only their heads and backs were visible.

The beak of each chick was like that of most other young birds with the top and bottom halves of equal length so that it was able to pick up small pieces of food from the ground. As the bird grew, however, a strange development took place: the lower half of the bill grew much faster than the top half. After about six weeks, when the chick was ready to leave the nest, the bottom half was nearly twice as long as the top.

The reason for this strange phenomenon became apparent when the bird, a skimmer, started to fly and was able to fend for itself. Flying close to the surface of the water the skimmer opened its beak wide so that, although the upper half was clear of the water, the lower half skimmed through it. In this way the bird could scoop up small fish, crustacea and other surface feeding creatures. It was able to grip slippery prey like fish because the upper bill had sharp knife-like edges curved to fit into corresponding grooves in the lower bill. This method of feeding is unique to skimmers, sometimes known as scissorbills.

Another remarkable feature of these unusual birds is that they have eyes like cats with variable, vertical pupils. This is because they do most of their fishing at night so they need to see well in the dark.

Skimmers are found in South-east Asia. Central Africa and around the warm coasts of Central and South America.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.