Great Frigatebird

Update of post from December 28, 2013

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The great frigatebird is a somewhat large bird living on various islands in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Both males and females are mostly black. Their wings, back, and tail are always black. Juveniles, like the one shown above, have white heads with gray and rust-colored markings.

The main difference between males and females is their chest. Females are white here, while males are red. By this distinction, you can tell that the bird shown above is a female. The picture below shows a male and his red chest. The red is actually a large pouch which he can expand by forcing air into it. Males also have a glossy green color on some of the feathers on their back, and you can see that in the picture below as well.

 

The beak of this bird is usually light gray or white. It has a curved hook on the end which is useful for holding on to its prey. Their legs are a pale pink color. Some features that distinguish them from other seabirds include their narrow wings and forked tail. This bird is sometimes also called the magnificent frigatebird.

Size

Great frigatebirds are rather large birds. The females are typically about 25% larger than the males, but I do not have specific measurements for each. Adults can have a length of 35 to 45 inches (89-114 cm), and, like most birds, they have a much larger wingspan. It can be between 81 and 91 inches (205-230 cm) from one wingtip to the other! That’s more than seven and a half feet!

As is usual with birds, great frigatebirds weigh less than it would seem based on their size. They weigh about as much as a chicken despite being much larger! Males weigh between 2.2 and 3.2 pounds (1-1.4 kg). Females, being larger, weigh from 2.7 to 3.6 pounds (1.2-1.6 kg). One of my sources says that they can sometimes weigh as much as 4.2 pounds (1.9 kg).

Diet and hunting

Great frigatebirds are seabirds, and like most other seabirds they love fish. Fish, while their favorite food, are not their only food. They also enjoy eating other aquatic animals such as jellyfish, squid, turtles, and crustaceans. The curved hook on the end of their beaks is useful for holding on to the slippery fish they catch.

These birds don’t do a very good job at swimming or taking off from the water. Because of this, they can’t dive into the water to catch prey as most seabirds do. Instead, they fly just above the surface of the water catching prey that is just below, on, or just above the surface of the water. One of their favorite foods to eat is flying fish, as they sometimes come above the surface of the water, making them easier for these birds to catch.

Great frigatebirds do have one other way of getting food, but it is not a very nice one. Since they are larger than most other seabirds, they are able to bully around the smaller birds and steal food from them. They will sometimes find birds that have just caught a fish, grab it by its tail, and shake it until it releases its catch. This is done while both birds are flying, so as soon as the meal is released, the frigatebird will fly down and catch the food before it hits the ground. This behavior has given this bird two nicknames; the Man-of-war bird, and the Iwa, a Hawaiian word meaning “thief.

Habitat and range

As you can see in the map below, great frigatebirds live throughout tropical areas in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans. They don’t live much in the open ocean, but any islands in the blue area may make good homes for this bird. They also live in the Caribbean, which this map does not indicate.

 

These birds are not very picky about the habitat they live in. Most of the islands in their range are good enough for them to live in. When nesting, they form their nests on bare shore near the ocean.

Status and threats

Magnificent frigatebirds are classified as least concern by the IUCN Redlist. These birds are rather large and therefore have almost no natural predators. Some mammals, and presumably other birds, may steal their eggs, but they live in large groups so they can keep watch for possible predators.

As with almost all animals, habitat destruction is the biggest threat great frigatebirds face. The population in the Atlantic ocean struggles the most from this, and it is thought that there may be no more of these birds left there 20 years from now. Still, there are an estimated 500,000 to 1 million magnificent frigatebirds in the wild today.

Reproduction

I couldn’t find information about when this bird’s breeding season, but I would guess it would be in the spring time. The males have a bizarre mating ritual where they inflate the red pouch on their chest. These pouches are called gular sacs. Females look at the males and usually choose the male with the largest pouch.

Once a pair has been formed, the males and female work together to construct a nest. The female is the only one that does the actual building, but the male helps by supplying building material. The nest is basically just a hollow platform of sticks, grass, and vines on the ground. Once they have built the nest, they work together to protect it from other males who may want to steal some of the materials.

About three or four weeks after the beginning of breeding season, the female lays a single egg in the nest. The egg is incubated for about eight weeks before it hatches. After hatching, the young frigatebird is featherless and helpless. It can take it 17 to 24 weeks to fledge.

The male helps to take care of the young until the next breeding season starts when he leaves to mate again. The female stays to take care of the young bird, and she may take care of it for another 18 months after it fledges! Sadly, despite this high level of parental involvement, some of the young never learn to feed themselves and starve soon after becoming independent. Because the female is so involved, she will not mate every year, instead, doing it every other year.

Magnificent frigatebirds normally live about 14 years in the wild. There was one bird that was captured for study in the Caribbean and found to be almost 20 years old! It was then released, and it may have lived much longer than that!

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about the next animal is!

Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Great Frigatebird – Duncan
  • Male Great Frigatebird – Public Domain
  • Great Frigatebird range – Wikipedia user:Aa77zz
  • Mystery animal – Bartosz Cieślak
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