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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 1:21 EDT

Indian Skimmer

The Indian Skimmer (Rynchops albicollis), is a species of bird that is found in southern Asia where it is sparsely distributed and is declining in population. Its habitat is large rivers and lakes, swamps, coastal wetlands, and estuaries. It is most common in freshwater, particularly during the breeding season. Breeding colonies are islands or sandy spits, especially on rivers. Its range has become more and more fragmented in recent decades. It is still found in areas of Pakistan, central India, Bangladesh, and Burma. It has disappeared in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The Indian Skimmer grows to about 17 inches long with a 42.5 inch wingspan. It is black above and white below with a white collar and forehead. The wings are long and pointed with a white trailing edge. The short, forked tail is white with blackish central feathers. The long, thick bill is orange with a yellow tip and, like the other skimmers, has a lower mandible which is longer than the upper mandible. The legs and feet are red. Juveniles are gray-brown above with pale fringes to the feathers on the back and wings. The head has more white than in adult birds and the bill is orange-brown with a dark tip. It has a high, nasal, screaming call but is often silent.

These birds forage for fish and small crustaceans by flying low over the water with the bill open and the lower mandible skimming the water. They often feed at dusk and into the night. They breed in colonies up to 40 pairs and often with terns and other birds. The nest is a scrape on the ground and three to five eggs are laid between March and May.

This species is classed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List as its numbers have decreased to between 6,000 and 10,000 individuals. The decline is due to habitat loss and habitat degradation, pollution and disturbance by humans.

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Indian Skimmer