A welcome surprise…Part 3.
By: Sabrina Cobb
It has been about four weeks now since our black skimmer nest mentioned in “A welcome surprise part 1 and 2” has hatched. Over the course of this time, Fallan, Olivia and I have been visiting the black skimmers regularly to record the progress of their growth. During our first week of monitoring the chicks, we noticed they were covered in soft tan down with some black speckling to help aid in camouflage. The first couple of days the chicks stayed close to their parents, often underneath them to stay cool and prevent overheating. They also have been seen using the wooden chick shelters we put out near the nest prior to hatching to offer extra protection from the heat.
By the seventh day the chicks were a couple of inches taller and a lot braver! On August 3rd Fallan noticed our once downy chicks were getting in some of their flight feathers. These darker feathers gave the chicks a more mottled appearance overall. Another observation we made during our visits this past week was that one of the chicks was larger than the other. This could be a result of food aggression, where one chick may be receiving more of the caught fish than the other. Black skimmer chicks are completely reliant on parent birds to feed them until they are capable of flight and have mastered the unique foraging technique. Mastering this technique can take some time even after they have fledged, around four weeks old.
On August 13th, Fallan informed Olivia and myself that the larger black skimmer chick had started to fly! Once the chicks are flight-capable, we no longer record them as chicks but as fledglings. The fledglings are closer to adult size now and are covered in light brown, black, and white feathers. When black skimmers first hatch their upper and lower beak are the same length, but now the lower beak is starting to protrude just past the upper.
Black skimmers are year-round residents of Alabama and the Gulf Coast. As they continue to grow, it is likely they will still be foraging the waters off of our coast and may return to nest here in Alabama.
August 20th starts our fall Audubon Coastal Bird Surveys! Surveys are conducted along several designated routes in Mobile and Baldwin Counties. Volunteers and staff will be working together to collect data on all birds observed during the duration of their conducted survey. We would love to hear more of what birds you are seeing as we begin these surveys and as fall migration starts. Please feel free to email myself or Olivia any cool finds and we can share them on our blog!