Indian skimmer

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The Indian skimmer (Rynchops albicollis) belongs to the family of skimmers, Rynchopidae.

These skimmer species are distributed in Indian subcontinent, Myanmar, China, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Much of the Indian skimmer population is now confined to Pakistan and India. These skimmers winter in southern Indian peninsula, Padma-Meghna delta in Bangladesh and Myanmar. The Indian skimmer is monotypic species.

Overview & Quick Facts Description & Identification
Pictures of Indian skimmer Distribution & Range
Ecosystem & Habitat Diet & Feeding Behavior
Breeding Habits Migration & Movement Patterns
Conservation & Survival IUCN Status
Taxonomy & Classification Bird World

Indian skimmer - Overview

  • Scientific name: Rynchops albicollis
  • Species author: Swainson, 1838
  • Synonyms/Protonym: Rhynchops [sic] albicollis Swainson, 1838
  • Family: Rynchopidae › Charadriiformes › Aves › Chordata › Animalia
  • Vernacular names: English: Indian skimmer, Chinese: 剪嘴鸥, French: Bec-en-ciseaux à collier, German: Indischer Scherenschnabel, Spanish: Rayador indio, Russian: Индийский водорез, Japanese: シロエリハサミアジサシ, Malay: Burung Seludang
  • Other names: Indian scissors-bill
  • Distribution: India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam
  • Diet and feeding habits: fish, shrimp, aquatic insects, insect larvae
  • IUCN status listing: Vulnerable (VU)
The Indian skimmer (Rynchops albicollis) is closely related to black skimmer (Rynchops niger) and African skimmer (Rynchops flavirostris).

Appearance, physical description and identification

The Indian skimmer (Rynchops albicollis) measures 40 to 43 cm in length and has a wingspan of 110 cm.
The overall plumage is white on the underside and black on the upper side. The forehead and the collar are white and the crown is black. The tail is short and forked. The central tail feathers are black. In flight the white trailing edge of the wing can be seen.

The bill is long and thick. It is colored bright orange with yellow tip. The lower mandible is longer. The non-breeding population has dull coloration and brown upperparts. The juveniles have paler orange bill with black tip. The legs and feet are red. The irises are black. Their call is a nasal "kyap, kyap" sound.
Picture of Rynchops albicollis
Image of Indian skimmer - Rynchops albicollis
Photo of Rynchops albicollis
Image of Indian skimmer - Rynchops albicollis
Picture of Rynchops albicollis
Image of Indian skimmer - Rynchops albicollis
Photo of Rynchops albicollis
Picture of Indian skimmer - Rynchops albicollis

Origin, geographical range and distribution

These skimmer species were distributed in north Indian rivers, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Now much of the population is confined to Pakistan and north Indian river systems. In 19th century, the skimmers were common in the Indian subcontinent, along the major rivers of Myanmar and along the Mekong in Indo-China. There are no recent skimmer sighting records from Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam.

Ecosystem and habitat

These skimmer species do not normally occur in forests. They inhabit various natural open, wetland ecosystems. The skimmers inhabit permanent freshwater lakes, permanent freshwater marshes, sandy, lowland rivers, permanent rivers, streams and creeks. The non-breeding population may move to estuaries and coasts.

Diet and feeding behavior

The diet of these skimmer species is mostly fish. Small fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects and insect larvae are the primary food. The skimmers often feed at dusk and early night. They fly low over the water with open bill and the lower mandible skimming water. On encountering a prey, the bill is shut and the prey is trapped.

Reproduction and breeding habits

The breeding season of these skimmer species is from February to June in the Indian subcontinent with a peak during March to May. Water levels in the rivers also determine the breeding period. Breeding colonies are formed and these skimmer species nest on open sand banks, exposed sand-bars and islands. The nest is a scrape on the sand bank. The clutch may consist of three to five eggs.

Migration and movement patterns

These skimmer species are partially migratory and the populations from Pakistan and north Indian range move to southern Indian peninsula, Bangladesh and Myanmar for wintering.
Post breeding dispersal of the skimmer juveniles takes place. They may make local movements for feeding and breeding.

Conservation and survival

The global population size of the skimmer species Rynchops albicollis is estimated to be 4,000 to 6,700 individual birds. The overall population size of these species is considered to be under sharp decline. Once these species were widespread in their range. However, presently, the skimmer is reported to be uncommon in its range. The generation length is 11.5 years.

The Indian skimmer (Rynchops albicollis) has approached the thresholds for being Vulnerable under the range size criterion, under the population trend criterion and under the population size criterion. Habitat loss, damming of the rivers, predation and widespread increases in human disturbance are the main threats that are endangering the survival of these species.

IUCN and CITES status

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has categorized and evaluated the skimmer species and has listed it as "Vulnerable". CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) status is ‘Not Evaluated’ for the skimmer (Rynchops albicollis).
Taxonomy and scientific classification of Rynchops albicollis
Species:R. albicollis
Binomial name:Rynchops albicollis
IUCN status listing:
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