With its uniquely shaped bill, the African skimmer flies low over calm water, with the long lower ‘blade’ of the bill dipping into the water (3). The bill snaps shut when it touches a fish (4), which is then swallowed in flight or after landing (2). African skimmers feed mostly at dusk, dawn and during the night, and rest during the warmer day when their fish prey is less likely to be at the surface of the water (3).
Pairs of African skimmers nest in loose colonies on expansive sandbanks (3), where they lay a clutch of two to three eggs over several days, into a scrape in the sand (2). The eggs are incubated, primarily by the female, for around 21 days, after which the buffy-white chicks hatch (2). In the blistering heat of their sub-Saharan African habitat, African skimmers have been observed dampening their breast feathers in the water before returning to the nest to wet and cool their eggs or young (3). The chicks, whose plumage is peppered with small black dots, are fed fish by both parents until they fledge at around four weeks (2). In West and East Africa, eggs are laid generally from March to June, while south of the equator, laying occurs from July to November (2). The colonies of eggs are vulnerable to being trampled by hippopotami and elephants and to raising river water levels which could destroy an entire colony (2).