Monday, July 23, 2012

Pacific Piracy - The Magnificent Frigatebird

© Pete Corradino

To take from others that which is not yours would seem an easy way to acquire any number of things. Treasure comes to mind. Regurgitated squid as well. As long as men have sailed the oceans there have been pirates plundering the belongings of others and as long as birds have taken to the skies, there have been certain species that would steal rather than hunt on their own. The colonial roosting, coast-dwelling Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) is one such bird. While they are quite capable of plucking flying fish and other pelagic species from the ocean’s surface, they have the unscrupulous habit of pestering fellow avian species into reluctantly giving up their meals.
© Pete Corradino
Many of Ecuador’s islands, from the far flung Galapagos (over 500 miles off the South American coast) to Isla de la Plata (just a few miles from shore) were famed pirate hideouts. A stone throw from the rocky cliffs of Islamar is Isla Salango, home to colonies of Blue-footed Boobies (Sulane bouxii), Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis). The island’s high cliffs, draped in tropical vegetation and capped with stone turrets provide excellent habitat safe from many terrestrial predators, but the Blue-footed Boobies must keep a watchful eye on their piratical island neighbors. Frigatebirds target boobies returning to the island with an obvious crop full of recently captured food. The frigates are light-weight, aerial acrobats, weighing in at no more than three and a half pounds with a wingspan nearing six feet. Their ability to pursue and harass boobies and other coastal birds provides them an additional food source besides scouring the seas themselves.
© Pete Corradino
As I stand on the mainland of Islamar, I watch the long-beaked frigates gliding on an imperceptible wind. For hours they drift back and forth across this span of sea. Beyond the limits of my vision, males return to the island with sticks and vegetation for the females who build the nest for a singular egg that both will tend to for nearly two months. The young will remain with the mother for up to eighteen months and by age five they will have learned that the entire ocean contains treasure to feast upon, even if someone else found it first. 

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful birds in flight, I was able to enjoy them while visiting the Dry Tortuga's a while back.