March 2012 Bird Photo of the Month

Flying High © Stephanie Black
Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens)
Canon T2i, 250mm lens, ISO 100, 1/5000 @ f/5.6

Have you seen this majestic flyer soaring high above our Lagoon or beaches? Taken from the 17th St. Bridge in Vero Beach, Stephanie Black’s photograph (Canon t2i 250mm lens) depicts the amazing 7-foot wingspread, deeply forked tail, and long, hooked bill of the Magnificent Frigatebird.

Only males sport this thin red membrane at the throat that is fluttered to dispel heat, or inflated like a balloon for courtship displays (keeping it puffed up for hours to attract females flying over). Colonial nesting takes place in Bermuda, the West Indies and a single U.S. colony on the Dry Tortugas. Males help raise their brood for 3 months, parents alternating bringing food for the young, Once the nestlings are well along the males disperse, accompanied by previous years’ juveniles (2-4 years old), and we see them along the Florida coasts. Being gregarious, multi-species mangrove rookeries are chosen for the afternoon and night roosting. At dawn to early afternoon when aloft foraging, their singular silhouette is unmistakable as they effortlessly glide along with scarcely any wing movement. Females remain at the colony to watch after the fledglings even up to one year.

Frigatebirds with marvelous skill upon spotting prey, bring wings in, plummet, and with a slight twist are able to lightly pluck a flying fish in midair or a jellyfish from the surface (wetting nary a feather). You will never see one of these birds floating on the sea, for their diminutive feet are incapable of paddling (or even walking). However, as aerial masters they can outmaneuver any booby, tropicbird or tern in relentless pursuit, harassing them to release their prey, allowing the Frigatebird to swoop low to catch the morsel before it drops into the sea, thus earning the nickname, “Man-o’-War-bird.” This strategy, known as kleptoparasitism, is useful during nest season when all seabirds in the colony are hard-pressed to provide constant nourishment to growing young.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon

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