Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A razorbill of a different stripe

When I was in Florida recently, I apparently missed fellow Ohioan Dane Adams by a short leap and a bound. He and his wife were in the same area, around the same time, and of course Dane was making some of his trademark awesome photographs. Those of you who read this blog regularly will recall some of Dane's beautiful images that he has allowed me to share.

Well, wait'll you get a load of the one that follows.

This picture, of a chunky Black Skimmer, is mine. I took it near Sanibel Island as the odd-looking bird rested with a platoon of other skimmers. I would say that the first thing about a skimmer that grab's one eye is that bill. It's fat, asymmetrical, and bright orange at the base. Being nearly as thick as the bird's head, one might think that this appendage would be an awkward forward-heavy thing to have stuck to the front of one's face.

Here's Dane's photo. Wow! Look at the razor thinness of that beak! It seems as if the bill tapers to nary more than the thickness of a sheet of paper near its tip. Scroll back up the first photo and blink at the contrast.

Skimmers hunt by flying just over the water's surface, slicing the lower mandible of their incredible bill through the upper strata of the water column. I have photos of that, and discussed their feeding in more detail, HERE.

As we can see from Dane's photo, the lower mandible of a Black Skimmer would offer little in the way of resistance; it is incredibly hydrodynamic. Not only does its thinness produce no drag, its shape also creates nearly no turbulence, which might alert potential fishy victims that something very bad for them rapidly approaches.

Thanks to Dane Adams for sharing his spectacular photo.


A Diff. Perspective said...

What an unusual angle.

I'd never thought that the bills look like that from the top! I'm utterly amazed & shocked by how thin it is. I always imagined it to be toucan-looking any way you look at it.

Cathy said...

I am blown away.

Having only ever observed that beak from the side - I imagined it was as bulky going forward.

I never understood why the drag on that massive appendage didn't pull the bird under.

Well. This has been wonderfully enlightening.

Thank you!

Randy Kreager said...

WOW! One would never guess that a bird's bill could look so different from those two angles! I found myself going back and forth between the two photos; willing myself to believe that a skimmer's bill could be that thin! Thanks for sharing!

Wren can be found in said...

Hooray, finally a photo! I never knew about that amazing bill until I had a close up look of a bird in hand. The next most surprising thing about skimmers is how small their bodies actually are and how loooong the wings...

The question still remains: how do they manage to hold fish in that paper-thin thing?

Vincent Lucas said...

One thing no one has mentioned so far about Black Skimmers is their often mistaken behavior of resting "splayed out" such that they appear "dead" to us human observors. I've seen it and it is uncanny!