PORT ISABEL, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The joyfully chattering colony of Black skimmers that began nesting four months ago on a pair of vacant lots in Port Isabel have almost all departed.
They began nesting in early June, with males carrying fish offerings to impress potential mates. Following days of piscatorial courtship among the raucous birds, two to five eggs were laid with both male and female sharing incubation duties.
Initial nesting attempts were thwarted by heavy rains, but the persistent skimmers were undaunted and re-nested primarily on the north lot.
Approximately, 80 skimmers, roughly 40 pairs, scratched out scrapes in the vacant lot, and this time after some 21 days of faithfully incubating their eggs downy little chicks began to emerge.
The devoted parents sharing not only incubation, but both also participating in fish delivery for the next month as rapidly growing youngsters required many meals to reach fledgling status.
Skimmers are the only birds whose lower mandibles are longer than the upper, and they gracefully soar over the bay skimming the surface for fish to snap up.
You can still see flocks of them along the Laguna Madre, but Black skimmers are vanishing from the Texas coast. Biologists estimate skimmer numbers have declined 50 to 60 percent over the past 40 years with perhaps 3,000 to 5,000 pairs nesting along the Texas coast.
They normally prefer nesting on a handful of islands in the bay where they can avoid predators, but over the years wind and waves have greatly reduced available nesting habitat. Increased boat traffic and human disturbance have also impaired nesting.
It was a rare opportunity to monitor this inland Port Isabel colony and thankfully property owners have been delaying construction until all skimmers have fledged.
This fully feathered youngster relishes a nearby lawn sprinkler’s curbside runoff where he is able to practice his skimming technique before taking flight.