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Black skimmer (Rynchops niger) in flight.jpg
Black skimmer (R. niger) skimming
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Laridae
Genus: Rynchops
Linnaeus, 1758
Type species
Rynchops niger (black skimmer)
Linnaeus, 1758

The skimmers, forming the genus Rynchops, are tern-like birds in the family Laridae. The genus comprises three species found in South Asia, Africa, and the Americas. They were formerly known as the scissorbills.[1]

The three species are the only birds with distinctive uneven bills, where the lower mandible is longer than the upper. This remarkable adaptation allows them to fish in a unique way, flying low and fast over streams.[2] Their lower mandible skims or slices over the water's surface, ready to snap shut any small fish unable to dart clear. The skimmers are sometimes included within the gull family Laridae but separated in other treatments which consider them as a sister group of the terns.[3] The black skimmer has an additional adaptation and is the only species of bird known to have slit-shaped pupils.[4] Their bills fall within their field of binocular vision, which enables them to carefully position their bill and capture prey.[5] They are agile in flight and gather in large flocks along rivers and coastal sand banks.[6]

They are tropical and subtropical species which lay 3–6 eggs on sandy beaches. The female incubates the eggs. Because of the species' restricted nesting habitat the three species are vulnerable to disturbance at their nesting sites. One species, the Indian skimmer, is considered vulnerable by the IUCN due to this as well as destruction and degradation of the lakes and rivers it uses for feeding.[7]

As in later editions of the works of Linnaeus, the correct spelling (from the Greek words ῥύγχος and ὤψ, together meaning "beak-face") should be rhynchops and this is often adopted. However, the misspelling rynchops was the one first published by Linnaeus and continues to be more commonly used.[8] Similarly, the gender of the Greek and Roman words is feminine and the genus was originally treated as such (R. nigra) but Rynchops is now usually treated as a masculine noun (R. niger).


The genus Rynchops was introduced in 1758 by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae.[9][a] The genus name Rynchops is from the Ancient Greek ῥυγχος/rhunkhos meaning "bill" and κοπτω/koptō meaning "to cut off".[11] The type species is the black skimmer (Rynchops niger).[12]


The genus contains three species.[13]

Image Common and binomial names Range
Black Skimmer Close Flying.jpg Black skimmer
(Rynchops niger)
Atlantic coast of North America, and from southern California to Peru in the Pacific, the Amazon basin, Atlantic coast of South America south to central Argentina
Rynchops flavirostris.jpg African skimmer
(Rynchops flavirostris)
Senegal to northern Congo River and southern Nile Valley, southern Tanzania to the Zambezi Valley, and then to KwaZulu-Natal Province (South Africa) and Angola
Skimmer1.jpg Indian skimmer
(Rynchops albicollis)
Pakistan in the Indus river system of Kashmir and northern and central India along the Ganges, Bangladesh and Burma and formerly occurred in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam


  1. ^ Linnaeus also used the spelling Rhyncops.[10]


  1. ^ "scissorbill, n.", Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
  2. ^ Mariano-Jelicich, R; Favero, M.; Silva, M.P. (February 2003). "Fish Prey of the Black Skimmer Rynchops Niger at Mar Chiquita, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina" (PDF). Marine Ornithology. 31: 199–202. Retrieved 2009-06-29.
  3. ^ Fain MG & Peter Houde (2007). "Multilocus perspectives on the monophyly and phylogeny of the order Charadriiformes (Aves)". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 7: 35. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-35. PMC 1838420. PMID 17346347.
  4. ^ Zusi, RL & D Bridge (1981). "On the Slit Pupil of the Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)" (PDF). Journal of Field Ornithology. 52 (4): 338–340.
  5. ^ Martin, G.R., Rojas, L.M., and McNeil, R. (2007). "Vision and the foraging technique of Skimmers (Rynchopidae)". Ibis. 149 (4): 750–757. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.2007.00706.x.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Fusco, P.J. "Connecticut Wildlife Archived 2009-09-14 at the Wayback Machine." Connecticut Department of Environment Protection Bureau of Natural Resources – Wildlife Division. May–June 2006. Accessed 2009-06-29.
  7. ^ "Large dams and barrages are an increasing threat to wetland-dependent birds". BirdLife International. Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  8. ^ Amaral, A do (1967). "Comment on the gender of names ending in -ops". Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature. 24 (1): 2.
  9. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 138.
  10. ^ David, N.; Dickinson, E.; Gregory, S. (2009). "Contributions to a list of first reviser actions: ornithology". Zootaxa. 2085 (1): 1–24. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.2085.1.1.
  11. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 344. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  12. ^ Peters, James Lee, ed. (1934). Check-List of Birds of the World. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 349.
  13. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (July 2021). "Noddies, gulls, terns, skimmers, skuas, auks". IOC World Bird List Version 11.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 16 August 2021.

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