Magnificent Frigatebird

Fregata magnificens

The Magnificent Frigatebird is a large seabird that occurs along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of North and South America, as well as the Caribbean Basin.  It is identified by long, pointed wings with a pronounced bend in the middle, a long, forked tail, and a long, hooked bill.  Males look markedly different from females, displaying their bright red gular sac to attract a mate.

Magnificent frigatebirds feed by selecting prey from the surface of the sea, mainly fish, squid, jellyfish, and crustaceans.  They are unable to land on water or dive under the surface, as they are incapable of flying when wet. Due to this limitation, they have adapted alternative feeding strategies, such as kleptoparasitism, forcing smaller seabirds to drop their catch or regurgitate food for their benefit.  

Magnificent Frigatebirds lay only one egg during the nesting season, incubate for about 50 days, fledge young after 5-7 months, and continue to be fed by adults for an additional 5-6 months.  Since breeding takes more than one year to complete, males tend to abandon nests after a few months and mate every year, while females mate every other year.  Due to the extensive time investment in breeding, human disturbance can greatly influence both colony site selection and nesting success. Nesting habitat in Florida is on islands or clusters of red mangroves, where birds build platforms from gathered sticks at ground level or elevated in trees. Nesting on the Marquesas Keys was first confirmed in 1969, and documented annually until the colony was abandoned in 1989.

For several years we have been partnering with scientists at Avian Research and Conservation Institute (ARCI) to identify daily and seasonal movements of the magnificent frigatebird using satellite-tracking technology. These studies will identify critical habitats and provide other ecological information about magnificent frigatebirds that will inform future management decisions and strategies.  For more information on the satellite-tracking studies of these and other imperiled birds that use the Florida Keys NWRs, visit ARCI's website .

Facts About Magnificent Frigatebird

The magnificent frigatebird is the only seabird species where males and females look strikingly different:

Males are all black with a red gular pouch

Females have a white breast

Juveniles have a white head and breast