Slicing Through the Water: The Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer FI

Slicing through the water. That was my first thought when I saw this pair of beautiful black skimmers doing a bit of low-tide fishing in the marsh.

I spotted this hungry duo on a morning camera safari, and managed to shoot a short video, which was fun for a couple of reasons. It was the first trial of the video capabilities of my whizzy new travel zoom camera, and an opportunity to delve into the iMovie app on my Mac.

Skimmer bill

Black skimmers are interesting because their feeding technique and unusual bill set them apart from all other American birds. As their name perfectly describes, the birds skim calm water hoping to catch small fish. And the other unique characteristic is their large, knife-thin, red and black bill which has a very useful adaptation. The lower part of the bill is considerably longer than the upper part, which increases the likelihood of snatching an unwary fish.

Skimmer Closeup

Their technique requires calm water, so they normally feed in inlets, tidal pools, creeks, bays, and obviously, marsh creeks at low tide. They’re skilled and graceful fliers, and catching a pair on video was lots of fun.

Happy Trails,

P.S. The photo techies may have noticed that the video is shaky in spots, but the camera was hand held and on max zoom. But, having a compact camera in my pocket that can pull this off is very cool.


Photo Credits:
1, By Mike’s Birds via Wikimedia Commons
3, By DickDaniels via Wikimedia Commons
4, By Dan Pancamo via Wikimedia Commons
5. By Terry Foote via Wikimedia Commons


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

43 thoughts

      1. the music was absolutely perfect! thanks for the name of the artist and song. i’ll pull it up now!

        i especially loved that closeup of the bird coming toward you.. i think it was the next-to-last image.


      1. No, I don’t think we do. There may be something similar, but I’m pretty sure we don’t have these exact birds.

  1. Wow I’ve never seen birds like that before using that technique to feed, absolutely fascinating. Great vid and wonderful photos too, that’s made my day, thanks 🙂

    1. Thanks Mike. I’m sure that you’ve seen lots of marine feeders in Wales, but if they’re like American birds, they’re “divers” of one sort or another. I’m not sure how widespread skimmers are globally, but I’m glad to have them in my part of the globe. ~James

  2. Brilliant photos, brilliant, esp the first one – are they yours too, or just the video?
    If they’re yours I wanna know what kind of camera you have 🙂
    I assume they’re yours or you’d no doubt have given credit.

    1. Thanks Alison. Yes, the video is mine – I was really lucky to get it! These birds are very wary of people and notoriously difficult to photograph. The still photos were done by pros and their photo credits are right under the last image. Each number links directly to the photographer on Wikimedia Commons. ~James

      1. Great video! How lucky for your to be able to capture that. And I’m always in awe of bird photographers.
        (I see the credits now lol)

    1. Thanks Virginia. I wish that I could take credit, but the still images are by professionals (see credit and links at the end of the post.) But, I did shoot the video, and was pleased with it. Not bad for a rookie. ~James

  3. Great slo-mo! Was that iMovie?

    I used to spend a lot of time on the Sea of Cortez on the Baja in Mexico. There we would watch the “Mexican Air Force”: pelicans diving for herring. They’d almost hover about 20 feet above a school of fish, collapse their wings, and dive, bill first, into the fish. They’d emerge with a bill full of their catch. It was hard to imagine they worked very hard for their meals. There musta been tons of fish in their huge bills when they merged from the water. A big gulp, and they’d be airborne again, intent on another scoopful.

    1. Thanks Tom. Yes, the video was done with iMovie. I’ve been playing around with the app, and it’s pretty neat and easy to use. Good ol’ Apple. We have loads of pelicans here on the coast, and I like to watch them fish as well. They aren’t the most graceful bird when they dive, but given their size, their success can’t be disputed.

  4. Amazing pics and video! You have to be in the right place at the right time and ready to take the images. Just gorgeous!

    1. Thanks Pam. I was very lucky to catch these skimmers. They’re very wary, and if you get too close, normally they don’t hang around. This video demonstrates the usefulness of a good zoom camera. ~James

    1. Thanks Jonathan & Terri. I’m sure that you’re getting anxious to be on the road. I hope the schedule works out. I was very pleased with the video, but I have to admit, that I shot a lot of shaky footage to come up with this few seconds. A hand-held camera, on max zoom takes a bit of practice. Luckily, the skimmers made a few passes. ~James

  5. The music suits this video perfectly. They look like they’re having a great time – almost showing off for each other . . . and the camera. 🙂

    1. Thanks Anita. It’s good to hear from you. They do seem to be having fun. I particularly like the point when one skimmer flys directly across the path of the other, and they barely miss each other. I wouldn’t want to be skewered by a razor-sharp beak. ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment Mike, and for visiting the blog. This was a fun post to put together. I had been putting off experimenting with iMovie, and this video provided the motivation. And of course, it’s always fun to listen to some my music collection for just the right piece. BTW, best of luck in Scotland. I lived in England for 3 years, and traveled to Scotland quite a lot on business, and it’s a wonderful place. ~James

    1. Thanks LuAnn. I hadn’t seen these birds until we moved to the SE coast. It’s relatively common to see them flying offshore in large groups, but seeing them feed has been a rare occurrence for me. I’ve been back to this location many times, but haven’t seen a single skimmer. Luck of the draw I guess. ~James

  6. All I could think was ‘damn, that would be a hard way to make a living.’ It made my neck hurt. There was grace involved, however. Nice work on the video James.

    1. Thanks Curt. This does look like hard work for sure. I keep wondering, “What are the chances that this skimmer will just fly over a fish, and snatch it up?” Well the species thrives on the coast, so it must work. The slo-mo part of the video emphasizes how graceful they really are. ~James

  7. Gorgeous and what a marvelous creature. Thanks for sharing! I’m looking forward to the Conure Parrots to swoop down and scarf my sunflower seeds when my blooms open! Birds rule! – Kaye

    1. Thanks Kaye. You mentioned a bird that I’m not familiar with, and after a web search, I’m envious that you have such a colorful bird in your garden. Also, I’ve never thought about it, but sunflowers are beautiful, living bird feeders. Very Cool. ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment Elaine. As you can see in the video, skimmers are graceful and agile in flight. I love watching them for both these reasons. In this particular location, they were buzzing around in all directions. I love the slo-mo part of the video where the two almost crash into each other. It was fun (and took lots of trial and error) putting the video together. ~James

  8. James and Terri, you both know how much I love your blog. I also know that you have already won numerous awards, including the Versatile Blogger Award for your outstanding blog posts. Regardless, I would be remiss if I didn’t nominate you for the Versatile Blogger award. Besides, who said that you can only receive just one? Grin. Congratulations 🙂

    The award guidelines can be located at this link . . .

    1. Congratulations on your award Steve … and on completing your awesome journey! What a trip you had, and I’m so glad you blogged during it – even when faced with some serious adversity! If you’re like us, it probably feels good to get back on familiar territory … for a while! 🙂

      What a fascinating gathering of people you’ve assembled. We are touched and honored to be included in such eminent company. Many thanks. Can’t wait to check out all these enticing blogs.

      Please follow this link to our Awards Page to see our personal response and Thank You.

      Wishing you all the best, Terri & James

    1. Thanks so much Jeannee. Skimmers are one of my favorites, and they’re so fun to watch. I was at the beach yesterday, and one flew right in front of me, skimming a small pool. Of course, he was long gone before I could get my camera out. ~James

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