Galapagos Frigate Birds

Frigate Birds have a bright red throat pouch, which in courting males becomes inflated to the size of a person's head.


frigate birds

Frigates also called man-o'-war birds, are large seabirds (family Fregatidae, order Pelecaniformes) about the size of a hen and have extremely long, slender wings.

They are large (almost 6 feet/1.8 m. wingspan), lightweight and have a long, hooked beak to catch fish without getting wet.

Frigates have an easier way to get food: stealing from other birds, specially red-footed boobies (this is, naturally, a survival strategy).

And when it is time to raise a family, they settle in others' nests, or abscond with some sticks.

Male frigates have shiny green or purple plumage (depending on the species) and a resplendent scarlet pouch, which is displayed in courtship.

Frigate Birds Courtship

During courtship display, the male forces air into the pouch, causing it to inflate over a period of 20 minutes into a startling red balloon.

As males tend to display in groups, the effect is magnified. Then the males sit quietly in the low shrubs watching for a female to fly overhead.

At this, the males waggle their heads from side to side, shake their wings and call. If the display is attractive enough, then the female will land and sit beside her amour.

Frigate Species

There are two species of frigates in Galapagos: The Magnificent Frigate Bird and the Great Frigate Bird.

Their main nesting colonies are found in Genovesa Island (Tower) and North Seymour Island.

The Magnificent Frigatebird is the largest of the two frigate species found in the Galapagos Islands.

It measures approximately 1.10 m long and have a wingspan of 2.45 m.

The male is entirely black with a purplish sheen on its back and a red goular pouch, which is only visible during the breeding season.

The female has white breast and shoulders, but is otherwise completely black.

When frigatebirds are sighted in the air, they typically are magnificent frigatebirds, because great frigatebirds tend to forage much farther out at sea.

As with the three similar species of Galapagos Boobies essentially similar species avoid competition by feeding in different locales.

Frigates are perhaps the most aerial of all birds except the swift and alights only to sleep or to tend its nest.

The adult, with insufficient preening oil to waterproof its plumage, never willingly alights on the water.

But it is unbelievably fast and skillful in the air, soaring effortlessly and often diving to recover falling fish dropped by boobies or other seabirds.

Frigate Birds Feeding

Not only do frigatebirds harass other species, but other frigatebirds as well. The disgorged bolus may pass through several beaks before it is finally swallowed.

In addition to stealing food from boobies and from one another, they steal nesting materials as well.

With their great maneuvering skill and their long, strongly hooked beaks, frigatebirds can glide along the surface of the water, swing their head down, and pluck out fish and squid.

In a similar manner they can pick up hatchling sea turtles, unprotected chicks, and disgorged food right off the ground.

Found throughout the world along tropical and semitropical coasts and Islands, the frigates usually keeps within 100 miles (160 km) of land, to which it must return to roost. It breeds in crowded colonies on the Galapagos Islands. Both parents incubate a single white egg.

The name "frigatebird" calls to mind the sails of ships and, indeed, frigate birds sail gracefully in the air currents overhead.

Their wingspan is some 7.5 feet and their deeply forked scissor-like tails afford them ultimate maneuverability. Their other common name, however, the "man-o'-war" bird, reflects the way in which they use their flying and maneuvering abilities.

More About Galapagos

About Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Birding

Fernandina Island

Daphne Island

Economic Galapagos Trips

If you have questions about Galapagos Frigate Birds, You can post them on our Galapagos FAQ Page and if you'd like to request more information about our recommended Galapagos Diving Tours to explore these Islands, You can Contact us here

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