March in San Cristobal and Genovesa means frigates’ mating season. These magnificent birds, also called “the condor of the oceans” by famous Charles Darwin, have an impressive wingspan and a body weight that allows for incredible maneuvers.
But the most distinguishing feature of frigates is the male’s large red throat pouch, which they inflate for breeding season. These bright red pouches are meant to attract the opposite sex, and males proudly flaunt it as females look for a suitable mate. When the female sets sights on her future mate, she will land next to him. The male will then spread his wings around her, warding off competition/ protecting her from other males.
After mating, frigatebirds lay a single egg. Their offspring will be able to fly after 5 months but chicks rely on their parents’ protection for a year, meaning that it will be another whole year until they mate again.
Great Frigate Birds belong to the Fregatidae family, with 5 species around the world. In Galapagos you can spot both the Great Frigate birds and the Magnificent Frigate Birds. During your visit to the islands its more likely that the frigates you’ll encounter will be Magnificent Frigates as the Great Frigates tend to go of further out to the ocean. A good way to tell them apart is by the sounds they emit: Magnificent Frigates sound as if they are rattling but Great Frigates sound more like a turkey, making a gobbling sound.
The female frigate is larger than the male and has a white breast instead. With lower necks, brown bands on their wings, and a blue eye ring they will be easy to recognize.
Frigate birds/Pirate birds
Frigates are also called “Man-o-Wars” and “pirate birds,” known for stealing food from other birds. Due to their extraordinary maneuvering, they follow and chase other birds, forcing them to regurgitate their food to them. Another incentive for doing so is that they only have a small amount of oil on their feathers, meaning that if they are in contact with water for a little too long, their wings will get wet and they won’t be able to fly. For this reason, frigates either rely on their aerobic skills or chase another bird that already caught its meal. Their diet consists of small fish and crustaceans, sometimes even the recently hatched sea turtles.
Are you ready for red pouches, mating rituals and frigate birds flying on the skies above? Enjoy Galapagos this March!