Previously on Chasing Dreams I wrote about an elegant but shy big bird, the Rosy Flamingo. There is nothing shy about the Galapagos frigates.
If you think that long, hooked beak is intimidating, how about these statistics: the adult frigate has a wingspan of about 7.5 feet, the females are larger and heavier than the males and they have the ability to soar for days using the warm equatorial air currents.
Ironically, these seabirds, while so elegant and graceful in the air, are actually a bit clumsy on land, since their feet are so short in comparison to their wings. And, unlike other seabirds, they don’t actually land/float on water – their feathers do not contain the oils for waterproofing, and their extremely long wings make it difficult to get the necessary underdraft to rise from the water.
They were originally named by a French naturalist who called them “la frégate” meaning a fast war ship. They are also called “piratebirds” due to their ability to steal food from other birds by harassing them in the air until the harried birds release their catch.
Remember all these facts – they are important to my story, as you will see.
The female may be larger but the male has a spectacularly brightly red hued appendage on its neck. It is called a gular sac and its sole purpose is to attract a female.
During courtship, male frigatebirds sit in groups, inflate these throat sacs, clatter their bills, wave their heads back and forth, shake their wings, and call to females:
From the internet:
The whistling you hear in the video are from boobies who were nesting nearby – you can see them sitting to the right of the frigates in a few frames.
Unlike flamingoes, frigates don’t mate for life and this is actually essential for the survival of the species. Eggs take around 60 days to hatch and chicks stay with momma frigate for up to 9 months, so the female cannot really get into the mating game again for at least a year.
The males therefore have to take up the yoke (no pun) and find a new mate so that new chicks are born every year.
We saw frigates on all the islands we visited, but I had my very own close encounter on the island of Santa Cruz. The hotels (explanation of the plural in a later post) were situated in Puerto Ayora, an area with a large bay that necessitated water taxis to get from our more private harbour to the center of town. Our side of the harbour was untouched with pristine beaches and wetlands. The city center was like a combination of Capri and Sedona, with tons of jewelry and art shops and wonderful open air restaurants. Yes there were purchases, to be discussed in a later post, with some interesting twists (of course).
Our guide Alfredo chose a marvelous two-storied restaurant for our lunch and as we waited for our meals to arrive I walked along the rim with my camera and couldn’t help but notice an interesting pattern of frigates and pelicans flying around and air-diving over a specific area:
Alfredo explained that there was a fresh fish market there and that after the locals purchase their choices the fisherman often cuts up bits of fresh tuna and such for the original locals – that is, the birds and even a sea lion or two.
So you already know where I had to go after our lovely meal.
It was everything I could hope for – and a bit more. The fishermen were indeed cutting up some magnificently fresh tuna for a few late coming people – while some of the furry and feathered friends waited patiently:
I would note that some of the pelicans were not necessarily patient as they were quivering in excitement of a potential treat.
Let me mention at this juncture that Lenore and I had walked down to the market and while she opted to stay back a bit, I was standing right next to the above – so my zoom lens was not needed for these and the photos to come. While the pelicans, gulls and sea lions waited on the ground, the frigates had opted to take a higher roost (the white headed birds are the females):
Then the fisherman walked to where I was standing and started to throw out morsels – and suddenly I was in the midst of a feeding frenzy. However, while the pelicans and seals stayed aground, the frigates decided to take a route by air, circling around. Then this:
Now any sane person, seeing a bunch of very, very large birds with extremely long beaks plummeting towards him/her would move. Nope – I was transfixed, holding my breath and hoping my camera would not only get the shot but also provide a shield for me. I also figured/hoped that the birds were more interested in the fish, not me.
The frigates were magnificent – and great maneuverers:
I’m not sure where Lenore was during this deluge, but that man in the background with his hands folded is Mike – a fellow traveler on our trip. He was grinning ear to ear as I continued to shoot my pics, and I’m not sure whether he marveled at my audacity, courage or stupidity. Probably a bit of all three.
Alfred Hitchcock would have loved the scene.