Indian Skimmer


Rynchops albicollis

Common Names:

Indian skimmer, Indian scissors bill

Indian Skimmer


Kingdom :    Animalia
Phylum :   Chordata
Class :   Aves
Order :   Charadriiformes
Family:    Laridae
Genus :   Rynchops
Species :   albicollis

Conservation Status:

IUCN :   Endangered
CITES :   Not listed
IW(P)A :   Not listed
U.S ESA :   Not listed


More widespread in winter, the Indian skimmer is found in the coastal estuaries of western and eastern India. It occurs primarily on larger, sandy, lowland rivers, around lakes and adjacent marshes and, in the non-breeding season, in estuaries and coasts.


Distribution of the Indian Skimmer (Source:

Characteristics, Habitat and Behaviour:

The Indian skimmer grows to a length of 40-43 cm. It has black upper parts, white forehead, collar and lower parts, long, thick, deep orange bill with a yellow tip and longer lower mandible. In flight, it has a white trailing-edge to wing and a short forked tail with blackish central feathers. Non breeders are duller and have browner upper parts. Juveniles have a dusky orange bill with a blackish tip, paler brownish-grey crown and nape with dark mottling and paler, more brownish-grey mantle and whitish to pale buff fringing scapulars and wing coverts.

It breeds colonially on large, exposed sand-bars and islands. Colonies of mating pairs can be observed nesting on sandy islands or open sand banks, often accompanied by other birds like Terns during the breeding season, between February and May. It feeds on surface-dwelling fish, small crustaceans and insect larvae. It emits a nasal kap or kip notes, particularly in flight and when disturbed.

Major Threats:

  • Habitat degradation. Exploitation and degradation of rivers and lakes through fishing, transportation, domestic use, irrigation schemes and pollution from agricultural and industrial chemicals are largely responsible for the decline of this species as these factors have reduced reproductive and foraging success.
  • Excessive and widespread increases in disturbance. The damming of the Chambal River, in upstream Rajasthan, has adversely affected its population at National Chambal Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh, due to the dropping water levels allowing predators and livestock access to breeding islands (Sundar, 2004).
  • Predation by corvids like House crows (Corvus splendens), presence of stray and domestic dogs, have been known to decimate breeding colonies (Siddiqui et al., 2007).


Siddiqui, A.I., Pandey, J., & Mandal, R. (2007). House-crow: threat to Indian Skimmer. Mistnet 8(2): 4-6

Sundar, K.S.G. (2004). Observations on breeding Indian Skimmers Rynchops albicollis in the National Chambal Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh, India. Forktail 20: 89-90.