Magnificent Frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebird by David J. L'Hoste
© David J. L'Hoste
Fregata magnificens
These majestic birds of coastal waters and the environs of sea islands are rarely seen on the Louisiana mainland, and then usually only after storms. Following the hurricane of August 6, 1939, Magnificent Frigatebirds, or "man-o'-war-birds," as they are often called, appeared over the lakes in the city of Baton Rouge and at various places along the Mississippi River as far north as Natchez. Extreme dates of authenticated occurrence in the state are March 25 to December 31. These dates would suggest that the species breeds here, but it does not. In fact, it was not known to breed anywhere in the United States until 1970, when nests were found on the Marquesas Keys, west of Key West. Nesting otherwise takes place form the Bahamas, Campeche Bank, and the Caribbean area as far south as northern South America and the Galapagos Islands. The birds leave the breeding colonies in numbers as soon as the young can fly. In June and July thousands of these birds can be seen at one time around the Northern Islands, in the Chandeleur chain, and on June 11, 1941, a group of us estimated that as many as five to ten thousand were in the air at the same place. The majority of the individuals in these large aggregations are young of the year, as evidenced by their white heads and extensively white underparts.
Frigatebirds, adults and immatures alike, are readily identified by their eight-foot wingspread and their long tails, which are forked to a depth of 18 inches. Adult males are black with green iridescence, except for the featherless throat, which is red in the breeding season and expands balloon-like beneath the bill as part of the mating behavior. Adult females have white chests, but the black head and belly distinguish them form immatures.
Frigatebirds, despite their large size, are as agile on the wing as swallows and are expert fishermen. They dive from great heights to pluck their prey from the water with their hooked bills, without wetting a feather in the process. Often, however, they dine on stolen fish that they intimidate gulls into dropping or disgorging.--George H. Lowery, Jr., 1974, Louisiana Birds

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