These large graceful sea birds, with forked tail and angular wings, widespread in the tropics, may be seen soaring effortlessly against the blue of the tropic sky. It is indeed a magnificent bird, as its scientific name suggests.
Barbuda boasts the largest Frigate breeding and nesting colony in the world. It is a tourist attraction, for the birds do not appear to mind visitors and allow close-up photography. Males are glossy black, and when courting they display a bright red pouch. Females are larger, with the sides and breast white. In Antigua and Barbuda, they are known as ‘Weather Birds’, as on the approach of a storm they may be seen circling inland.
Adults have a length of just over 3 feet and a wingspan of from 7 - 8 ft. and weight of about 3 lbs. With this wing-span/weight ratio, the birds appear to ‘hang’ in the sky, for they are great soarers. In a flat calm, Frigates are known to fly at 22 mph.
Fishermen use them to locate schools of fish as they may be seen circling and diving over schools of fish. They dive for albacore and flying fish, but also eat jelly fish, crustaceans and young turtles. They rob other seabirds of their newly caught food, hence their name of Frigate or Man-o-War.
The birds attain an age of between 5 - 7 years before the first breeding. Flat nests of twigs and grasses are built. One white egg per nest appears from mid-September until late March. The young are fed by regurgitation and the young fly from 149 -207 days after hatching. They sleep so soundly that it’s possible catch them with bare hands; this must have been a blessing for the Amerindians, when hunting for food. The Indian name for them was ‘Manor’. A frigate bird has been recorded as having reached the ripe old age of 34 years.
Special thanks to the late Desmond Nicholson of the Museum of Antigua & Barbuda and Peter Duce for making this section of Antigua Nice Ltd possible!