One of the first banded black skimmers visits Alligator Harbor beach

Every summer, black skimmers breed on beaches across Florida. Biologists in southwest Florida place colored, plastic leg bands with a unique combination of numbers and letters on black skimmers to allow scientists to track bird movements, breeding success, and survival. To track the bands, biologists depend on community birders to report bands when spotted.


Bands give researchers more information about the lives of individual black skimmers, like A04. A04 was one of the first skimmers banded in this project, hatching on St. Pete Beach in 2015.


In May 2017, two-year-old A04 was spotted at the same beach on which he was born, presenting a fish to his lady. He successfully raised chicks in 2017 and 2018, but unfortunately, was unsuccessful this year.


In October, A04 visited Franklin County for the first time, one of around 300 black skimmers currently using Alligator Harbor as their wintering destination.


The majority of skimmers in the eastern United States migrate southward to Florida, covering considerable distances from breeding areas as far north as New England. During the winter, these “snowbirds” can be seen in the same flocks as the Floridian birds. Many will spend the winter here while others will continue farther south.


A04, like most black skimmers born in Florida, will spend his whole life in the Sunshine State. The Apalachicola Bay fisheries and the minimally disturbed Panhandle beaches are extremely important for A04 and his flock mates to refuel from energy-expensive migration and to recuperate after a long breeding season.


To protect breeding and overwintering black skimmers, beach visitors should give these birds plenty of space. Walking around large flocks of shorebirds and seabirds helps them store up energy for the next leg of their journey and the next nesting season.


Black skimmers are a state threatened species and a focus of Audubon’s coastal bird conservation work. For more information on how you can help these beautiful birds check out https://fl.audubon.org/get-involved/coastal-bird-stewardship.


To volunteer with Audubon Florida, email FLConservation@audubon.org.


Col Lauzau is an Audubon shorebird biologist. Last Saturday, she and Bonnie Samuelson, shorebird program manager for Audubon’s Northwest Florida, Eastern Division, led a shorebird walk at Bald Point State Park. The walkers saw 15 species along the beach including the state threatened American oystercatcher and federally threatened piping plover.