Latin name: Fregata minor & magnificens

Population: Over a thousand couples for each species.

The Frigate is a sea bird-of-prey. Unable to land on the water, they either fish on the surface, steal the catch of other seabirds, or eat eggs, chicks, or young turtles. The frigate has a highly efficient weight to wing-span ratio enabling them to fly long distances without having to land.

Frigates nest in small shrub-like bushes. During the mating period, the male sports a red pocket, swollen like a balloon, in order to seduce his partner. The female lays but one egg, which is often lost due to poor nest construction. The incubation period is 55 days. Given their hunting methods, the parents are unable to ensure uninterrupted feeding for their chick, whose development is consequently erratic. The chick can fly after six months, but remains dependent on its parents for another year. Thus the couple only reproduces every two years.



The art of piracy
One of the frigates' most spectacular exploits is their attack on blue-footed boobies returning to feed their young. In the course of a veritable battle of the skies, the frigate obliges the booby to regurgitate the food destined for its chick, and with a spectacular dive, catches the same before it hits the water.
We witnessed this behaviour while filming in Tobago, where red billed Tropic birds were constantly relieved of their catch by these pretty but vicious pirates.

Differences between the two frigates
Physically quite similar, here are some pointers to help you tell them apart:
The male magnificent frigate-bird has a black plumage with purple highlights: on the great frigate-bird, these highlights are green.
The female great frigate-bird has a red ring around her eye: this ring is blue/green on the magnificent frigate-bird.
The great frigate-bird fishes out to sea, while the the magnificent frigate-bird fishes near the coast.
The great frigate-bird is to be found on most tropical coasts.
The magnificent frigate-bird is more rare and may be found in the Caribbean Sea and in the Galapagos. Throughout the world, there are only five species of frigate-bird in existence.


Bird watching
Much of the appeal to me of the natural environment in Antigua and Barbuda is the multitude of bird species to be found there. The Frigate Bird Sanctuary on Barbuda, though accessible only by boat, is the largest bird sanctuary in the Caribbean and contains over 170 species; Long Island and Great Bird Island also offer outstanding opportunities for birdwatchers, but the most accessible is the Lagoon at Galley Bay, which had the highest concentration of birds that I have seen on any Island, and certainly the first time I have been able to film Frigate birds without them being a speck in the distance



Antigua to me was an eye-opener. Chris and I had passed through the airport several times as it is the main Caribbean hub between the Islands, and I have to admit that the few glimpses I had of the Island were not inspiring, so when we were asked to spend two weeks filming I was wondering what I would be able to find apart from the hotels to make a 30 minute documentary. As far as the scenery goes I was right. Antigua has beaches to die for and scenery that looks as though it has died. It's no one's fault. Antigua is a flat island with not enough rain and so scenery is limited, but the bird life is AMAZING!! I could not believe the number of species I found while filming the hotels. One of my favourites was the Ramiere Pigeon which I first filmed on Barbados and I have used the following pictures to illustrate the frustration I have with the limited zoom on my video camera

If you look carefully at the picture on the left you can see where I have ringed our bird in orange.
On the right is the same bird on maximum zoom. One of my biggest gripes with camera manufacturers is the wasteful effects they assume customers want instead of basic essentials like useful optical zoom lenses.

(Technical note: As these images are all taken from my Sony VX2000, they are captured using DV Tools at 720X576 pixels which is the default for PAL DV footage. They are then taken into Adobe Photoshop (A programme I would be lost without - well worth anybody's money) and scaled down for use on the web. If you would like to see what the maximum size of my pictures are try one.
Birds of the Caribbean     Whale watching


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