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Indian Skimmer Rynchops albicollis
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This species is listed as Vulnerable because its population is undergoing a rapid decline as a result of widespread degradation and disturbance of lowland rivers and lakes.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

40-43 cm. Typical skimmer. Black above. White forehead and collar and white below. Long, thick, deep orange bill with yellow tip and longer lower mandible. In flight, white trailing-edge to wing and short forked tail with blackish central feathers. Non-breeders are duller and browner above. Juvenile has dusky orange bill with 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. Voice Nasal kap or kip notes, particularly in flight and when disturbed.

Distribution and population
Rynchops albicollis is confined to Pakistan and India, north of c.16°N, Bangladesh, where a large proportion of the population winters, principally in the Padma-Meghna delta, and Myanmar. It is a rare visitor to Nepal. It was formerly widely distributed across the Indian Subcontinent, along the major rivers of Myanmar and along the Mekong in Indo-China. It was common in the 19th century in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, but there are very few recent records from Myanmar (Sundar 2004) and none from Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam. It has declined in India and Pakistan. Its population is estimated at 6,000-10,000 mature individuals.

Population justification
The population was estimated to number 10,000 individuals by Perennou et al. (1994), but BirdLife International (2001) considered that it may well have fallen below this level given the evidence of declines throughout its range. The Asian Waterbird Census recorded 5,542 in 2001 (Li and Mundkur 2004). S. Balachandran (in litt. 2005) estimated the Indian population to be 2,500 individuals. Its total poulation is estimated at 6,000-10,000 individuals, roughly equating to 4,000-6,700 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Rapid population declines are suspected to be occurring, in line with the widespread degradation of riverine and wetland habitats throughout the species's range.

It occurs primarily on larger, sandy, lowland rivers, around lakes and adjacent marshes and, in the non-breeding season, estuaries and coasts. It breeds colonially on large, exposed sand-bars and islands.

Its decline is attributable to widespread increases in human disturbance, exploitation and degradation of rivers and lakes through fishing, transportation, domestic use, irrigation schemes and pollution from agricultural and industrial chemicals. These factors have reduced reproductive and foraging success. The population stronghold at National Chambal Sanctuary, Utter Pradesh (India) has been badly affected by the damming of the Chambal River in upstream Rajastan, resulting in dropping water levels and allowing predators and livestock to access breeding islands (Sundar 2004). Water release from dams and seasonal floods can destroy breeding colonies. Encroachment of vegetation, especially the invasive water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes, is an increasing problem at lakes and reservoirs. House Crows Corvus splendens, which have been witnessed to decimate at least one breeding colony, are attracted to human settlements, cultivation and areas of food waste and animal carcass disposal, activities that also encourage the presence of stray and domestic dogs (Siddiqui et al. 2007).

Conservation Actions Underway
It occurs in National Chambal Sanctuary, India. Narora, in Uttar Pradesh, has been declared a Ramsar site (Siddiqui et al. 2007). Active management has reduced key threats at some wetland sites.Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct surveys in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Cambodia to clarify its current distribution and status. Organise a population census in India and Pakistan during the breeding season. Conduct detailed research into seasonal movements of non-resident populations. Campaign for strict protection of the National Chambal Sanctuary, with particular reference to the maintenance of high water levels during the breeding season. Promote active management of static wetlands used as feeding areas. Promote strict control of pesticide use near important sites. Research and mitigate threats at important breeding colonies. Campaign for increased representation of large waterways in protected-area systems. Carry out awareness-raising activities (Siddiqui et al. 2007), perhaps targeting certain stretches of river. Consider persuading some farmers to abandon islands along certain stretches of river (Siddiqui et al. 2007). In some areas, use physical barriers and people to prevent access to river islands by other people and unwanted animals (Siddiqui et al. 2007).

Related state of the world's birds case studies

BirdLife International. 2001. Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Li Zuo Wei, D.; Mundkur, T. 2004. Numbers and distribution of waterbirds and wetlands in the Asia-Pacific region: results of the Asian waterbird census: 1997-2001. Wetlands International, Selangor, Malaysia.

Li Zuo Wei,. D.; Mundkur, T. 2004. Numbers and distribution of waterbirds and wetlands in the Asia-Pacific region. Results of the Asian waterbird census: 1997-2001. Wetlands International, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Perennou, C. P.; Mundkur, T.; Scott, D. A. 1994. The Asian Waterfowl Census 1987-1991: distribution and status of Asian waterfowl. IWRB and AWB, Slimbridge and Kuala Lumpur.

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 Chambel Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh, India. Forktail 20: 89-90.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Gilroy, J., Pilgrim, J., Taylor, J.

Htin Hla, T.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Rynchops albicollis. Downloaded from on 23/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 23/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Indian skimmer (Rynchops albicollis) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Laridae (Gulls, Terns, Skimmers)
Species name author Swainson, 1838
Population size 4000-6700 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 252,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species