I am officially in love! As many of you know, I finished my Masters degree (in Environmental Policy and Management with a concentration in Fish & Wildlife Management) just before we moved aboard the boat. I did an internship-type field study class in the salt marshes in the San Francisco Bay studying terns, black-necked stilts, and American avocets. I did my thesis on whether or not we should bring the passenger pigeon back from extinction using DNA from museum specimens. So you can see I love animals and birds in particular. So this blog is all about the magnificent frigatebirds. Yes, that is their species name and magnificent they are. If you aren’t interested in learning about the birds, skip reading the blog and check out the pictures in the gallery below. They are very unique birds.
I first noticed frigatebirds in Costa Rica and thought they looked like pteradons flying in the sky. They are huge! Frigatebirds are known as the pirates of the sky, preferring to steal other birds’ fish to catching their own. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t good fisherbirds. As this immense colony shows, they do well enough to support thousands of individuals. Frigatebirds never dive or swim, though, they only swoop down to pluck up surface-dwelling fish, such as flying fish. Frigatebirds also eat jellyfish, squid, hatchling turtles, crustaceans, and smaller birds and eggs.
The breeding males have an interesting feature: bright red gular sacs on their throats that they inflate and show off to attract a female. The males also stake a claim on a nesting spot and build a nest to further entice the female. Frigatebirds do not mate for life, so males go through these rituals each breeding season. I could tell older males that have been doing it for a while. Their gular sacs are huge and don’t retract all the way when not inflated. The skin is so stretched that it hangs looking… Well, I’ll let you judge what it looks like – see the “Deflated Male” picture in the gallery. An example of a younger breeding male may be the one in the “Impressive Talons” picture. There is definitely a difference in the size and shape of the deflated sac.
Figatebirds only lay one egg, which both parents incubate for 40-50 days and feed once the chick hatches. Both parents are required to care for the egg/chick as other frigatebirds will feed on any unattended young. Cannibalistic sounding as that is, it is not unusual behavior for birds. The frigatebird colony in Barbuda is extremely accessible by boat, although they are protected and you must have permission to bring a boat there. For the first time since I received my masters, I am interested in a topic enough to consider working towards a PhD. Can’t you just see me camping out on a small boat in the mangrove studying these birds? Of course, I’d have to come up with a new idea about the birds, something important enough to warrant a thesis. Oh, and how long does it take to finish your thesis typically? Two to eight years? Okay, nevermind. Maybe I’ll just try to get Dave to take me back for a few more hundred photos.