Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Indian Skimmer

Indian Skimmer
(Rynchops albicollis)

  • Description: A crow sized, tern-like bird, blackish brown above and glistening white below; a broad white forehead, sides of face and a collar, contrasting with the black head and nape; a dark stripe down the middle of the white rump and forked tail. A typical knife-like compressed bill, with longer lower mandible, orange yellow in colour; legs bright red. Immature lighter brown above, scalloped with fulvous white; forehead with brown streaks; tail-feathers tipped brown.

  • Distribution: It is found on large rivers and lakes, swamps and coastal wetlands such as estuaries. It is most common on freshwater, particularly during the breeding season. Breeding colonies are on islands or sandy spits, usually in rivers. Its range has become increasingly fragmented in recent decades. It is still found in parts of Pakistan in the Indus river system of Kashmir and northern and central India along the Ganges, Bangladesh and Burma. It is a scarce non-breeding visitor to Nepal and has occurred as a vagrant in Oman and central Thailand with old records from Iran and China. They are more widespread in winter and are found in coastal estuaries of western and eastern India. Breeding colonies are known from the Chambal river area, an area that is of importance for the Gharial. Sand banks are important for the nesting of Gharials.

  • Behavior and Diet: The birds forage for food by flying low over the water with the bill open and the lower mandible skimming through the water. When a fish is encountered, it moves up the lower mandible and the bird raises the upper mandible and snaps it with a movement of the head. They forage in small flocks and often associate with terns. They feed mainly on fish but also take small crustaceans and insect larvae. They often feed at dusk and can be very nocturnal. The breeding season is mainly March and May. They breed in colonies of up to 40 pairs, often with terns and other birds. The nest is a simple scrape on the ground mainly on open sand banks that provide unobstructed views of any oncoming predators. The eggs are buff or white with brown blotches and streaks. There are three to five eggs in a clutch. The birds tend to incubate the eggs more during the cooler hours of the day and are often away from the nest during the hotter parts of the day. Incubating adults are said to indulge in belly-soaking behaviour to cool the eggs. A bird at nest was once observed to pick up (and drop into water) an intruding chick of a River Tern using its leg.

  • Threats: Increased disturbances in the breeding ground along the sandy banks of major rivers due to fishing activities, probable shortage of food (of appropriate size) and increased pollution of river waters in recent times are probable causes of depletion of the species.

Indian Skimmer : Fishing