Frigatebirds in Galapagos Islands

galapagos frigatebirds

Frigatebirds are more than just a big Red Balloon. They are amongst the most photographed birds in Galapagos.

These Galapagos birds are also known as "Man o' War".


They are sea birds of the order Pelicaniformes (it includes five species in total) and two species are found in the Galapagos Islands:

The Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) and the Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor). They are big sea birds, with abundant population, and of tropical distribution.

The great frigatebird has the greater world-wide distribution, and can be found throughout the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans.

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The Magnificent Frigatebird can be seen in the Caribbean and on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the American Continent.

The Galapagos Magnificent frigatebirds is an endemic subspecies. You can see the two species nesting on the Islands of: North Seymour, Floreana, Isabela, Genovesa and also on the surface of a fresh water lake called El Junco, on San Cristobal Island.

The Great frigatebirds are harder to spot because they tend to fly away much farther out at sea, while the Magnificent tends to fly above the Islands and thus easier to see.

Even though these birds belong to a group characterized for their always water-resistant plumage, these Galapagos Birds are not completely water proof.

They are masters of aerial maneuvers, fast flight and in some cases kleptomania! Great Frigate birds steal from other frigates, as well as other species, like red-footed boobies and tropic birds.

They also steal nesting materials as well. It doesn't matter how they feed, what counts is that they survive.

This skill in flight allows then to pluck small fish from the very surface of the water, dipping only the bill into the sea or even preying on flying fish in their mid-flight.

Their wingspan is around 7.5 feet and their deeply forked scissor-like tails afford them ultimate maneuverability, and their overall length is about a meter.

Since the natural world lacks the value of ethics, stealing allows them to continue in this world. And, if they survive, they will reproduce.

Frigatebird reproduction is one of those amazing examples of animal behavior to observe in Galapagos Islands.

Males start off everything with a very basic flat surface (half guano, half twigs), while hormonal changes will produce color changes, like the impressive scarlet red gular pouch.

The pouch becomes fully inflated, and it represents about 40% of the bird's volume.

Females select males by combining two visual features: nest and pouch (you guessed it right: the bigger, the better). They will produce just one egg, and their reproduction is every other year, since it takes a year-and-a-half to rear that single chick.

It has one of the longest periods of immaturity of all birds, and it may be another half a year before the chick is able to fly.

Even then, immature may be dependent on its parents for food for over a year, and full sexual maturity is not reached for five years.

Perhaps, this bird is the most photographed bird in Galapagos, and certainly the one that has the most elaborate courtship ritual. The two species of frigatebird are very similar to one another, the males are the most difficult to distinguish.

The call is one of two ways to distinguish the males of the two species from each other. Great frigatebirds make a gobbling sound, not unlike a turkey, while Magnificent frigatebirds make a drumming sound.

The other way to distinguish the nearly identical males is to look at the scapular feathers, long feathers that cover their shoulders.

Although the feathers are black, they are iridescent and produce different colors when they refract sunlight. In Magnificent frigatebirds the iridescence is purple while in Great frigatebirds it is green.

Recommended Reading

Ecuador & Galapagos (Insight Guides). Click to order from Amazon

Ecuador & Galapagos (Insight Guides)

With 250 photos and tons of great information, this is an essential addition to your pre-Ecuador and -Galapagos reading!

There are better guides if you are only interested in the islands, but for a combination trip taking in Ecuador as well, it's hard to beat.


Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands. Click to order from Amazon

Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands

Small enough to fit into your pocket, yet containing comprehensive information and pictures of all the species you will encounter in the islands, this book is a must-have for nature lovers.

Let's face it, Galapagos is largely about the wildlife. This book will NOT disappoint, and you'll have a great memento of your time with the seals, penguins and tortoises!


Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World. Click to order from Amazon

Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World

Definitely NOT a tourist's guide, but if you're like me, and find the history and geography of the islands irresistible, then this is a title you ought to invest in.

Stunningly illustrated, and painstakingly researched, those of you who have been there will be enchanted again -- and those of you who have not will begin planning your trip!


Moon Spotlight Galapagos. Click to order from Amazon

Moon Spotlight Galapagos Islands

If you're a seasoned Galapagos regular, then you will probably prefer something weightier.

But for first-timers looking for simple, down-to-earth advice on where to go, what to see and the best shopping and eating on the islands, this is the book for you.

Small, well-priced, and reliable!


Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire. Click to order from Amazon

Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire

The 10th anniversary edition of this photographer's tour of the Galapagos Islands is a stunning book, worthy of anybody's coffee table.

This is a perfect post-trip talking point -- a great way to remember what you've seen, and spread the word amongst your envious friends!


Frigatebirds are much more than a "red balloon". Visit Galapagos and see it for yourself...Click Here to Choose One of Our Excellent Galapagos Tours

More About Galapagos

Best Galapagos Books

Galapagos Island Cruises

The Famous Galapagos Pink Iguana

Galapagos Islands Hotel

If you have questions about the Galapagos Islands or if you'd like to request more information about our recommended Galapagos Land Tours to explore these Islands, You can Contact us here

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