Thursday, June 16, 2022

Magnificent Frigatebird

The frigatebird is a bird I've wanted to see since a child, the male's huge red gular sac enveloping its breast during breeding season is an image once seen, not forgotten. 

We encountered the magnificent frigatebird, one of five species of frigatebird, first in Panama as we took a motor boat out to the monkey islands, part of the Panama Canal complex. They were large and very distinctive flying high above us and I got photos of one eating a fish. 
This series of photos captures a female in flight, trying to get a fish it has caught turned and headed into her stomach. 

One other female flying overhead. 
Later that day we visited Miraflores Locks, actual locks in the Panama Canal, and they were continuously flying above the locks. I never did sea one dive after a fish and I watched them quite awhile. 
The only photo that I have which captures the male and its deflated gular sac. This was above the Miraflores Locks. 

These other photos are of females. 

We also encountered them in the Galapagos Islands. In particular, we saw them outside Elizabeth Bay on Isabela Island. In fact as we took our small boat back to the yacht one afternoon I saw two huge black birds standing at the top of the boat that I didn't recognize. The guide told me they were frigatebirds. Once we landed I went up to try and get a photo and they flew: I did get flight photos, but none while they were standing. 
These photos of a male from our yacht outside Elizabeth Bay do not show the gular sac. 

Male magnificent frigatebirds are all black with a red throat patch that it inflates like a balloon during breeding season. Their shoulder (scapular) feathers have a purple iridescence in sunlight, one of the few ways of distinguishing the "magnificent" from the "great" frigatebird (which has green iridescent shoulder feathers in sunlight). Females are mostly black, but also have a white breast and lower side neck, a blue eye-ring and a brown band on the wings. Juveniles have a white head and underparts.  

1 comment:

  1. They are very distinct in the air because of their size and slender profile. Do you know what their typical wingspan is?