Ian’s Bird of the Week – Great Frigatebird

Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor) Male by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Great Frigatebird ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 8/28/14

This week’s good news is that the ebook Where to Find Birds in Northern Queensland is now available on the iTunes store (in 51 countries). So if you have an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Mac (running OS X Maverick) this is for you! Here is the link: https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/where-to-find-birds-in-northern/id912789825?mt=11&uo=4. To make a connection with this week’s bird, the Great Frigatebird, here is a screen shot from iBooks to show you what you can expect. All the text items highlighted in purple and links to either other places in the book – typically places, birds or lists – or external websites. The images are the same size as the ones that are included in the bird of the week, so if you double-click, or double-tap, on them, you can enlarge them to full size.

Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor) by Ian

If you think about birds in northern Queensland, perhaps iconic rainforest species like the Cassowary or Victoria’s Riflebird come to mind. Fair enough, but there is much more to this region than rainforest, important though that is.The area also has wonderful wetlands, tropical savannah forest, mountain ranges, dry country habitats and, last but not least, the coast with its Barrier Reef, beaches, mangroves, mudflats, continental islands and coral cays. So it should be no surprise that over 400 species of birds occur here and you need a reference devoted to the region to do it justice. I’ve chosen a dramatic seabird to make the point.

The term ‘frigate’ was first applied in the 17th century to warships built for speed and manoeuvrability and frigates were often used by pirates to attach merchant shipping. Frigatebirds, also called Man o’ War Birds, got their name for their piratical habitats of harrying other seabirds like boobies and tropicbirds to make them drop their prey. In fact, studies have shown that piracy accounts for perhaps only 20% of their food, and they are expert fishers as well. They fish by snatching prey, such as squid and young turtles, from the surface of the sea or in flight, in the case of their favourite prey, flying fish.

Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor) Female by Ian

Despite their naval name, frigatebirds are wonderfully adapted for flying and are poor swimmers to the extent that they are reluctant to land on water, as they can take off only in strong winds and their plumage is not waterproof. They have very light bones making up only 5% of the body, huge pectoral muscles, enormous wing area, long forked tails for rudders and streamlined bodies with small heads. Despite their size, they are very light, soar effortlessly in good winds and are very acrobatic. Female Great Frigatebirds, larger than males, are about 1m/40in long, have a wingspan to 2.3m/90in but weight only 1.2-1.6kg/2.6-3.5lb.

Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor palmerstoni) Female by Ian

The male Great Frigatebird, first photo, is the only all-black frigatebird occurring in Australia – the other all-black males are the Magnificent Frigatebird of Atlantic Ocean and the eastern Pacific and the Ascencion Frigatebird of the east Atlantic. Frigatebirds are unusual among seabirds in drinking freshwater if they can get it, and this male is drinking at the mouth of freshwater stream on Christmas island by snatching a beak-full of water in flight. Frigatebirds also bathe in flight by splashing into the surface of the water and flying off. You can also see its red gular pouch. This is inflated to enormous size to impress females during courtship. I haven’t got a photo of displaying Great Frigatebird, but you can see a Magnificent Frigatebird doing so here: Magnificent_Frigatebird.

Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor palmerstoni) Juvenile by Ian

Female Great Frigatebirds have white breasts and care needs to be taken in distinguishing them from other female and juvenile frigatebirds – Lesser Frigatebirds of both sexes have white ‘spurs’ in the axil of the underwing, and Christmas Island Frigatebirds of both sexes, have white bellies. Birds in Indian Ocean waters in Australia belong to the nominate race minor, distinguished by the females having pink eye-rings, second photo. Birds in the Pacific belong to palmerstoni and usually have blue eye-rings, third photo, though doubt exists as to the validity of the races and the reliability of the fieldmarks.

Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor palmerstoni) Juvenile by IanBecause of their need for consistent winds, frigatebirds are restricted to tropical waters where they can rely on the trade winds. Adults are sedentary and remain close to their roosting sites and breeding colonies, mostly on small isolated islands. Non-breeding birds and immature birds are pelagic and move over huge distances. Trade winds are unusual in that they form cumulus clouds and hence thermals over water both by day and night, and frigatebirds make great use of these to soar as high as the cloud base and will fly at night if conditions are right. Pelagic frigatebirds use the front of storms to move around and can cope with high winds very well. This is why they appear in coastal areas after cyclones and are supposed to be called ‘rain-brothers’ by Australian aborigines, though I haven’t been able to verify this.

Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor palmerstoni) Juvenile by IanThe range of the Great Frigatebird includes the tropical Pacific, southern tropical Indian and western Atlantic Oceans. In Australia it breeds colonially on islands along the outer Great Barrier Reef, in the Coral Sea and on Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean, usually in mangroves. The juvenile in photos five and six was photographed on East Diamond Islet, about 600km east of Cairns http://www.satelliteviews.net/cgi-bin/w.cgi?c=cr&UF=34304&UN=456541&DG=ISL. Breeding birds form pair bonds and both parents share in the incubation and feeding of the young. The young develop very slowly. This is thought to adapt them to periods of starvation when the adults have trouble finding food, and remain under parental care for many months.

Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor) Female attacking Red-tailed Tropicbird by IanThe last photo shows a hapless Red-tailed Tropicbird near Christmas Island being harried by a female Great Frigatebird who has grabbed it by the tail-streamers. Frigatebirds hang out near seabird colonies waiting for birds carrying prey or with full crops returning to feed their young. It’s hard enough work being a parent without having to put up with this!

Greetings
Ian

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Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au


Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor) Male Displaying ©WikiC

Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor) Male Displaying ©WikiC

Lee’s Addition:

but those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 HCSB)

Thanks again, Ian, for introducing us to another interesting bird. We have seen the Magnificent Frigatebirds here in Florida, but these Great ones are also amazing. That fact about only 5% of their weight being the bone structure is another fantastic design from their Creator.

Frigatebirds belong to the Fregatidae – Frigatebirds Family which only has five species in it.

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Ian’s Bird of the Week

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Lesser Frigatebird

Fregatidae – Frigatebirds Family

Great Frigatebird – Wikipedia

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Ian’s Bird of the Week – Lesser Frigatebird

 

Lesser Frigatebird (Fregata ariel) male by Ian

Lesser Frigatebird (Fregata ariel) male by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Lesser Frigatebird ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 3/2/11

This is the third of the post-cyclone Yasi birds of the week. The first dealt with survival of small birds; the second with birds like fruit-doves that move after the cyclone in search of food. Another category of birds greatly affected by cyclones are seabirds, particularly those that spend much time on the wing and these often appear in places where they are not usually seen or get blown inland, sometimes over great distances.

The Lesser Frigatebird is common in oceanic waters of northern Australia and breeds in colonies both on the northern mainland and on cays and islands. Adult birds are normally sedentary, remaining in the vicinity of the colonies, though immature birds may travel widely over the oceans. Frigatebirds not normally seen in places like Townsville, distant from breeding colonies, except after cyclones and cyclone Yasi was no exception with both Great and Lesser Frigatebirds being recorded along the coast. I was surprised to see a pair of Lesser Frigatebirds near my place at Bluewater, 11km from the coast and the birds looked quite out of place soaring over the hills south of the house.
Lesser Frigatebird (Fregata ariel) female by Ian

Lesser Frigatebird (Fregata ariel) female by Ian

Lesser Frigatebirds are easily distinguished in all plumages from Great Frigatebirds by having white ‘armpits’ or spurs. The first photo shows a male bird, black except for these spurs and male Great Frigatebirds are entirely black. Male Frigatebirds have inflatable red throat pouches used to spectacular effect in displays (for example this male Magnificent Frigatebird in Ecuador: http://www.birdway.com.au/fregatidae/magnificent_frigatebird/source/magnif_frigatebird_27662.htm ). The second photo shows a female Lesser Frigatebird and the third an immature one.
Frigatebirds are huge. Even the Lesser, the smallest of the 5 global species, is 70-80cm/28-32in. in length with a wingspan of 1.8-1.9m/5.9-6.2 feet. They are very light for their size, having very light bones, and are adapted to soaring effortlessly in the trade winds where they are usually found. They are famous as pirates, forcing other seabirds, particularly boobies, to disgorge their prey ( http://www.birdway.com.au/fregatidae/greater_frigatebird/source/greater_frigatebird_39356.htm ), but they are also adept fishers in their own right, snatching flying fish in flight and other fish and cuttlefish from the surface of the water. They have tiny feet, useful only for perching in trees when nesting or roosting and quickly become water-logged if forced to land on water which they normally avoid. They will bathe and drink fresh water in flight ( http://www.birdway.com.au/fregatidae/greater_frigatebird/source/greater_frigatebird_40675.htm ).
Lesser Frigatebird (Fregata ariel) imm. by Ian

Lesser Frigatebird (Fregata ariel) imm. by Ian

11km from the coast is nothing to a frigatebird and it is likely that cyclone-distributed frigatebirds can find their way home (like swifts, they often take advantage of storm fronts). Less fortunate perhaps was the Petrel recorded post-Yasi on the Atherton Tableland by Alan Gillanders, though the record for Yasi goes to a Bridled Tern rescued ‘in bad shape’ in Alice Springs by Chris Watson, probably as far away from the ocean as you can get in Australia.

The latest addition to the website is a taxonomic index of Australian birds ( http://www.birdway.com.au/aus_taxonomic.htm ), showing Orders and Families and with links to the 97 of 103 families of Australian birds represented on the website. The 6 unrepresented families are also shown but lack links. Some of these missing families are merely rare vagrants such as Northern Storm-Petrels and Leaf Warblers (the Arctic Warbler) or introductions like the Ostrich but others such as Penguins (there are only photos of African Penguins) are to be regretted and I hope to rectify this before the year is out. The other two – Scrub-birds and Sheathbills – are in the very hard baskets, and I can’t make any promises. If classification is your thing, this page is for you and you can find it under the grey navigation button ‘Indices to Australian Birds’ formerly singular. There are also instructions on the home page: http://www.birdway.com.au/index.htm#news .
Best wishes,
Ian

Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: +61-7 4751 3115
Preferred Email: ian@birdway.com.au
Website: http://birdway.com.au

Lee’s Addition:

The birds of the air, And the fish of the sea That pass through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth! (Psalms 8:8-9 NKJV)

The frigatebirds are a family, Fregatidae, of seabirds. There are five species in the single genus Fregata. They are also sometimes called Man of War birds or Pirate birds. Since they are related to the pelicans, the term “frigate pelican” is also a name applied to them. They have long wings, tails and bills and the males have a red gular pouch that is inflated during the breeding season to attract a mate. They are part of the Suliformes Order.

Frigatebirds are pelagic piscivores which obtain most of their food on the wing. A small amount of their diet is obtained by robbing other seabirds, a behavior that has given the family its name, and by snatching seabird chicks. Frigatebirds are seasonally monogamous, and nest colonially. A rough nest is constructed in low trees or on the ground on remote islands. A single egg[citation needed] is laid each breeding season. The duration of parental care in frigatebirds is the longest of any bird.

Frigatebirds are found over tropical oceans and ride warm updrafts. Therefore, they can often be spotted riding weather fronts and can signal changing weather patterns.

These birds do not swim and cannot walk well, and cannot take off from a flat surface. Having the largest wingspan to body weight ratio of any bird, they are essentially aerial, able to stay aloft for more than a week, landing only to roost or breed on trees or cliffs. (Wikipedia)

Dan and I had the privilege of see a Magnificent Frigatebird flying over Ding Darling NWR.