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The amazing and delightful African Skimmers

African skimmers on Lake Bunyonyi

African Skimmer (Rhychops flavirostris)

These tern-like birds feed on crustaceans, insects, and small fish. They are the only representatives of their family on the African continent. Their crowns, hindneck, and backs are black while the rest of the body is white.

Of all the fish eating birds in Uganda, the African skimmer birds may have the most extraordinary bill. The bill is thin and elastic like a paper-knife, and the two halves come together by their thin edges, but the lower mandible project way beyond the upper by at least one-third its length. It is hard to believe that such bills were designed for catching fish. They use their bills to secure fish as they skim the surface of water as nighttime approaches. With its beak wide open but with the lower beak ploughing through the water they fly above the water surface, once the lower mandible touches a fish, it shuts close trapping fish in the process. The small fish that often rise to the water surface in the evening are scooped up.

Their unique lifestyle requires a consistent flood cycle which is not affected by seasonality. The water should also be free from pollution.

African skimmers on Kazinga Channel
African skimmer picture. They were captured flying over the waters of the Kazinga Channel in Uganda.

African skimmers have the most interesting nests. Their nests are just small hollows in the exposed river banks. These birds are common along the sand banks of the Kazinga Channel and in sand banks along the Nile River in Murchison Falls National Park. There are lots of fish in these waters, this wonderful bird finds no trouble getting food.
They are worth observing with their long powerful scimitar-shaped wings just a few centimeters above the water as they skim the water surface for fish in the evening hours.

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