SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Perhaps, you have seen them gracefully gliding low over the bay, barely cleaving the surface as they snare small fish in their rapier bills.
Aptly named skimmers, the world’s three species are the only birds whose lower mandibles are longer than the upper.
Only the Black skimmer occurs in the Americas, and researchers are trying to ascertain why they are vanishing across their breeding grounds along the East Coast from the Carolinas to southernmost Texas, where as few as 3,000 pairs may remain.
David Newstead, Director of the Coastal Bird Program for Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries, is heading up a team that is banding birds along the Texas coast to learn more about their movements.
“So, basically what we have seen is over the last 50 years or so the population of skimmers has plummeted across the state.”
The multi-year banding study has already revealed surprising data, and the recent affixing of GPS monitoring tags on several birds in the Lower Laguna Madre will enable biologists to garner even more critical information about skimmer’s movements.
“We are also trying to find out what they are doing when they are not here. We have tracked birds and have detected that birds are going as far as Central America,” said Newstead.
Skimmers, who normally don’t nest until their third year, raise their young on only a handful of islands in the Lower Laguna Madre, many of which are eroding away, and protection from human disturbance on these few sites is crucial.
“By having these tags on birds we are going to be able to identify, not just habitat types, but specific areas,” added Newstead.
One positive development is the recent stabilizing of a spoil island just out from the Port Mansfield harbor where hundreds of skimmers successfully raised young this year.