These are amazing seabirds, with a wing span of over two meters, are also known as Magnificent Frigate Birds. Mostly viewed from afar, high up, soaring on the warm air currents, Frigatebirds often follow fishermen or circle above where fisherman unload their catch. (It’s an excellent signal – a bit like a smoke signal – if you want to know if the fisherman are back!).
These birds were first spotted in the Caribbean by Colombus in 1492. In the 1600s the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste du Tertre mentioned their etymology: their name comes from the French “Frégate”, meaning a fast-moving war vessel. The British mariners in the Caribbean at that time called the Frigatebirds “Man-of-War birds”.
Frigate birds are very unusual for seabirds in that they do not ever settle on the water’s surface: their feathers produce very little oil so would become rapidly sodden when in contact with seawater. Moreover, their large wings would make take off very difficult.
Distinctive by their long, forked tails, the males and females of Frigatebirds have different characteristics. Considerably lighter than the female, the male has a red inflatable pouch which swells up during the mating season to attract females. The female, on the other hand, although having the same blue-black feathers, has white markings on her underside.
On Barbuda, the sister island of Antigua in the Caribbean, there is a large colony of breeding frigate birds which is well with a visit, particularly during the mating season when the incredibly swollen red punches of the males are very much in evidence. Visitors to the island are taken to the lagoon where the Frigatebirds are in small, wooden boats, which can get quite close to the birds: an excellent experience to be recommended!