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Fregatidae – Frigatebirds

Magnificent Frigatebird in the United States: Photo by Daniel Irons

Frigatebirds, known for their impressive wingspans and striking appearance, are masters of the tropical and subtropical skies. With long, slender wings and deeply forked tails, they are exceptional aerialists, often seen soaring effortlessly for hours. Males are particularly recognizable during the breeding season by their bright red throat pouches, which they inflate to attract mates. Despite their graceful flight, frigatebirds are notorious kleptoparasites, frequently harassing other seabirds to steal their hard-earned catches. These birds nest in colonies on remote islands, and their young, covered in fluffy white down, remain dependent on parental care for an extended period.

Overview of Fregatidae

Frigatebirds, also known as man-o’-war birds, evoke the image of swift and lethal sea vessels, competing with jaegers as the ultimate pirates of the sea. They often steal food from other birds, especially those returning to their breeding colonies with their catch. With a skeleton featuring many fused bones in the thoracic girdle, frigatebirds have the lightest wing-loading of any bird, with the feathers weighing more than the bones. This unique structure allows them to combine long, narrow wings for efficient soaring with exceptional maneuverability. They skillfully snatch flying fish from the air and other fish from the surface, but lacking waterproof plumage, they avoid diving or swimming as they risk drowning if their feathers become too wet.