Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Frigate Birds of the Galapagos Islands - Pirates of the Sea

On every island, around every boat, following diving boobies - it seems that everywhere you look in the Galapagos Islands, you find Frigate Birds.






You might see them following your cruise ship, or even sitting on the mast.










You see them on every shoreline and where the boobies go diving for food, so go Frigate Birds.  Some people find Frigate Birds to be so obvious, so present, that they forget to take a moment to look at just how beautiful and interesting they are.  I want you to have a new appreciation for this bird - often called the pirate of the sea.










Frigate Birds are very different from other marine birds which have no trouble at all getting their feathers wet and resuming flying.  Unlike Frigates, most birds, say for example Blue Footed Boobies, have a small oil gland called the uropygial gland near the base of the tail.  You've probably seen a bird pluck at his back end, then at his feathers, then repeating this many times.  The bird is taking the oil and using it to preen in order to waterproof and insulate the feathers, and to keep them flexible and clean. The oil is spread throughout each feather to prevent it from becoming water logged when the bird lands on the ocean to capture its prey.  Frigate Birds do not have this gland and, as a result, have insufficiently insulated feathers.  If they get wet they loose the ability to lift off and fly; instead they sink - not a great result for a bird dependent on fish for sustenance!


Because of the evolutionary fluke that renders Frigates unable to land in the water without dire consequences, they have developed their own rather unconventional means to survive and get their much-needed nutrition.  Like pirates, who were scoundrels and thieves, Frigate Birds steal from other birds rather than swoop down into the ocean to catch their own fish.  When they don't find something they like that they can snatch up with their beaks from the ocean surface, like a  fish or iguana, they steal it on the wing from other birds. Frigates follow Boobies, Noddies, Shearwaters and the like.  When the diving bird makes a catch, in sweeps the Frigate, violently and nastily shaking and attacking the bird with the fish until it drops it and then, miraculously, catching the fish in mid-air.  This method is particularly effective with weaker, innocent, unsuspecting and vulnerable adolescents just learning to feed themselves. This feeding behavior, called kleptoparasitic, is actually quite a useful meal ticket.



In my next two post you will learn about Frigate Bird mating behavior - in which girls pick the guy like on the t.v. show "The Dating Game" and how to distinguish Great and Magnificent Frigate Birds.  After that, you'll see Frigates in a whole new light.






Visit me at the Galapagos Eco-Lodge and read more on my blog about all the wonderful and exciting attractions that await in the Galapagos Islands.






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