Magnificent Frigatebird

by Kyle Sweet, The Sanctuary Golf Club, Florida Master Naturalist

The Magnificent Frigatebird , a large high soaring seabird that is most commonly seen in Florida throughout the ho t summer months is this weeks “Sweet Shot”. Often, the size and shape of this bird are easy identifiers to beach goers. This is a good thing because they seldom seem to get close enough for a detailed look, at least in my experiences with you.

The Magnificent Frigatebird forages in the air, swooping close to the water and taking items from the surface. All the while, making very little contact with the water. It can also swoop down onto the beach and take prey from land without landing. Additionally, this Frigatebird feeds by piracy, chasing birds and forcing them to drop or disgorge their recently acquired food.

They feed mostly on fish, but will also enjoy squid, jellyfish, crustaceans, hatchling turtles, other young birds and occasionally eggs.

Unlike most other birds we learn about, the female Magnificent Frigatebird lays just one egg, which is incubated for about 40-50 days. The nest is closely guarded until the chic is at least half grown, due to other Frigatebirds in the colony eating unguardered young. Age of first flight is a staggering 20 – 24 weeks, but the female will continue to feed the young for an additional 16 or more weeks. In total, the breeding lasts nearly a year.

When nesting, they nest close together. Males attract the females by inflating their red throat pouch, which resembles a large red balloon. They continue by raising their bill, vibrating their wings, moving back and forth and calling. Females flying overhead see the displays , are attracted to the group and fly in to choose one male as a mate. The nesting site is usually in the mangrove trees and shrubs above the water.

The Magnificent Frigatebird, a great one to identify at your next trip to the beach. Bring some binoculars if you want to see the details of the bird and enjoy spotting this large, graceful, long lived seabird.

Four Keys to ID

1. Size and Shape – Large seabird with long, angular wings. They have a deeply forked tail that is often held to a point. Their bill is long with a hooked tip.
2. Color Pattern – Mostly black, but females and young birds have varying amounts of white on the head , chest and belly. Young birds also have a tan streak on the upper wing. Breeding males are entirely black except for a red throat pouch.
3. Behavior – They soar over the ocean with outstretched wings, seldom flapping them. They don’t dive for fish, instead they skim fish from the waters surface or chase other birds, forcing them to give up their recent meal.
4. Habitat – They soar over tropical and subtropical oceans throughout the Americas. They forage in lagoons and far out in the sea. They nest in low – growing scrub vegetation on islands.

Cool Facts

The Frigatebird is sometimes called the “ man o’ war bird “ because it harasses other birds until they regurgitate recently captured food, which the Frigatebird can swoop down and snatch in mid-air.
The Magnificent Frigatebird spends most of it’s life flying effortlessly over the ocean. It rarely lands on water because unlike other seabirds it lacks waterproof feathers.

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