This occasional series began recently here. It seeks to celebrate some especially wonderful and unexpected bird bills; all bills are pretty amazing organs, but some really do make us open our mouths in astonishment at the ability of evolution to produce solutions to problems most of us probably didn't realise existed!
One such belongs to the remarkable skimmers, which comprise a small family, Rynchopidae, of three species of birds related to gulls and terns. There is one species each in Africa, the Americas and southern Asia. They have in common a most improbable-looking bill, in which the bottom mandible is dramatically longer than the top one, giving a distinctly distorted appearance.
|Black Skimmers Rynchops niger, Caulin, Isla de Chiloe, Chile.|
|African Skimmers R. flavirostris, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda.|
But, why would you want such a contraption? As ever, the answer comes when you see how they use it.
|Black Skimmers, Caulin.|
These two are flying along steadily, just above the water, with that long lower mandible skimming (see?) the surface. When it contacts a small animal - fish or shrimp for instance - it automatically snaps shut, flipping the snack inward. Makes perfect sense then.
Nature generally does when we get an insight into why things are the way they are. I love it.
Back tomorrow for the last time in 2012!