African skimmer

Global Warming got nothing on this bird

robert muckley

With its distinctive bill adorned in brilliant orange-red at the base and capped with a sleek black tip, it is a striking sight along the waterways of sub-Saharan Africa. This unique bill adaptation, characterized by a flattened lower mandible that is approximately one-third longer than the upper, serves a specialized purpose in the skimmer’s feeding behavior. As the bird flies gracefully in lines over calm waters, it dips its lower mandible into the surface, skimming the water for prey. When a fish is detected, the skimmer swiftly snaps its mouth shut, capturing its meal with remarkable precision.

One of the most remarkable features of the African skimmer is its distinctive vertical pupil, a trait shared by only a handful of species in the animal kingdom. This unique eye structure allows the skimmer to regulate the amount of light entering its eye, enabling it to adapt to varying light conditions with remarkable efficiency. By narrowing the pupil to a single slit in bright sunlight or dilating it into a full circle in low-light conditions, the African skimmer maximizes its visual acuity and ensures optimal hunting success regardless of the time of day.

The African skimmer’s feeding behavior is most active during the crepuscular periods of dawn and dusk when light levels are lower, and its exceptional night vision further enhances its hunting capabilities during these times. This nocturnal prowess enables the skimmer to forage efficiently in low-light conditions, relying on its keen eyesight to detect and capture prey even in the dimmest of environments.

In addition to its specialized feeding adaptations, the African skimmer is also well-suited to the challenging environmental conditions of its habitat. As one of the most heat-tolerant birds on the planet, the skimmer thrives in the sweltering temperatures of sub-Saharan Africa’s wetlands, where it navigates the waterways with grace and agility.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Angola
2020
Benin
2020
Botswana
2020
Burkina Faso
2020
Non-Breeding
Burundi
2020
Cameroon
2020
Central Af. Rep.
2020
Passage
Chad
2020
Congo-Brazzaville
2020
Côte D’ivoire
2020
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
2020
Egypt
2020
Non-Breeding
Equatorial Guinea
2020
Passage
Eritrea
2020
Non-Breeding
Ethiopia
2020
Gabon
2020
Gambia
2020
Non-Breeding
Ghana
2020
Guinea
2020
Israel
2020
Vagrant
Kenya
1,000
Official estimate
LC
2020
Liberia
2020
Malawi
2020
Mali
2020
Mauritania
2020
Non-Breeding
Mozambique
2020
Namibia
2020
Niger
2020
Nigeria
2020
Rwanda
2020
Senegal
2020
Sierra Leone
2020
Somalia
2020
Non-Breeding
South Africa
0
Official estimate
EX
2020
Last recorded 1970
South Sudan
2020
Passage
Sudan
2020
Tanzania
1,500
Official estimate
LC
2020
Togo
2020
Vagrant
Uganda
2020
Yemen
2020
Non-Breeding
Zambia
2020
Zimbabwe
2020

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic / Monomorphic (size)

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd / Flock

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No