10 March 2016
While in Barbuda we took a tour to see the Frigate Bird Sanctuary, it is one of the largest in the world...amazing to see.
The Frigate is a sea bird-of-prey. Unable to land on the water, they either fish on the surface, steal the catch of other seabirds, or eat eggs, chicks, or young turtles. The frigate has a highly efficient weight to wing-span ratio enabling them to fly long distances without having to land.
Frigates nest in small shrub-like bushes. During the mating period, the male sports a red pocket, swollen like a balloon, in order to seduce his partner. The female lays but one egg, which is often lost due to poor nest construction. The incubation period is 55 days. Given their hunting methods, the parents are unable to ensure uninterrupted feeding for their chick, whose development is consequently erratic. The chick can fly after six months, but remains dependent on its parents for another year. Thus the couple only reproduces every two years.
The art of piracy
One of the frigates' most spectacular exploits is their attack on blue-footed boobies returning to feed their young. In the course of a veritable battle of the skies, the frigate obliges the booby to regurgitate the food destined for its chick, and with a spectacular dive, catches the same before it hits the water.
We witnessed this behaviour while filming in Tobago, where red billed Tropic birds were constantly relieved of their catch by these pretty but vicious pirates.
Differences between the two frigates
Physically quite similar, here are some pointers to help you tell them apart:
The male magnificent frigate-bird has a black plumage with purple highlights: on the great frigate-bird, these highlights are green.
The female great frigate-bird has a red ring around her eye: this ring is blue/green on the magnificent frigate-bird.
The great frigate-bird fishes out to sea, while the the magnificent frigate-bird fishes near the coast.
The great frigate-bird is to be found on most tropical coasts.
The magnificent frigate-bird is more rare and may be found in the Caribbean Sea and in the Galapagos. Throughout the world, there are only five species of frigate-bird in existence