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            Tuesday, September 4, 2007

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The Magnificent Frigate
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The Magnificent Frigate
by Elbert Greer
Photo courtesy Tanisha Tours
This one is a male doing the 'impress a female thing', with his red gular inflated he tom toms a rapid beat using his beak as a drum stick. rocking his head back and forth beating one side then the other,

The Frigate eat solely fish and can't swim...imagine what that would do to a personality...They do a skim feeding trick, gliding above and dipping a hooked beak to snag surface swimmers. but more than 75% of his fish diet is stolen from others. He waits and watches while other fish catch, then grabs it from their mouth or crashes into them in mid air hoping to have them drop the catch in order to snatch it up for themselves.

Fregata magnificens
The first bird most visitors to our island notice is the Frigatebird. As you settle on the veranda of your hotel in the afternoon gazing out at the reef you may notice soaring above the fisherman’s shoreline is a very large black sea bird with extremely long pointed wings and a deeply forked tail.

Bubba and I probably get asked by San Pedro’s tourist every week, ’what’s that large Teradactail looking bird up there?’ Small birds seem to go unnoticed by most nonbirders. The frigate is big! Wingspan runs more than 7 feet and soars high over the water never landing on its surface. Over the centuries of mans naming birds the Frigate has worldwide been referred to as ‘The Man-O-war Bird’.

Most ornithological groups have placed it in the order of Pelecaniformes. The males are black with an oblivious red Gular, the juveniles and female have a white head and neck. The description I like, having known this bird for some 15 years, is in David Siblys ‘Guide To Birds’, It says,” A distinctive aerial pirate”. What kind of personality would you imagine a bird would have if it ate only fish but could not swim? Born to steal.

Rodger Pasquier in his book, ‘An Introduction to Ornithology’ wrote,” Frigatebirds that lack waterproof feathers swoop to the surface of the water and pick up fish with out ever landing.” And ‘in theory ‘as they say Rodger is correct but if fishing was that easy wouldn’t we all just swoop down and pick up a bag full? What I’ve witnessed watching Ambergris’s Frigates is: Skilled fishing birds such as the Cormorant, Gull and Tern dive for the fish only to have the frigate swoop down and grab it from their mouths. The Cormorant can’t swallow its catch underwater and I’ve watched the Frigate circle above until it surfaces then quickly snatch a meal with little struggle on the part of the surprised Cormorant, however the Tern doesn’t give it up without a fight, The poor fish sometimes goes from the Terns mouth to the Frigates then retrieved by the Tern and back again to the Frigate with the Frigate ultimately being the prize winner.

Of the 5 species in the world Ambergris is densely populated with only the magnificent. Part of its success on the island is due to the many fishing boats cleaning their catch and sharing their scraps with the birds. From low altitude you can see the red gular area on the males neck. This can be inflated into two large balloons for display to the females. When courting the male, while sitting on the nest he has built for her, inflates the guglar bends his neck down and beats them rapidly with his beak like two drums causing an almost rattling noise. They nest atop the mangrove and in colonies sometimes in conjunction with the Boobies as on Half Moon Caye. The nest is a large platform of sticks constructed by the male but built from materials presented him by the female.

Frigates living in harmony with us on the island.

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