One of my favorite experiences every summer on Galveston Island is seeing the breathtaking view of Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring effortlessly overhead. These large dark seabirds have unmistakable silhouettes, with slim bodies, angular seven- to eight-foot wingspans, and deeply forked tails that are sometimes held closed.
Frigatebirds are amazing aerialists, staying on the wing for weeks at a time, rarely needing to flap and steering with their tails. Although they are water birds, their feathers aren’t waterproof, so they are unable to land on or dive into water. They forage by skimming over the surface of the water and using their long, hooked bills to capture fish and other prey. However, they are better known for their habit of chasing and harassing other birds to steal food from them in midair, even shaking them upside down to force them to release their prey. This pirating behavior caused sailors to give the species the nickname “Man’o’war bird”.
Adult males are completely black with a red, inflatable throat pouch that is rarely seen; adult females are larger, with white breasts and pale blue eye-rings. Juveniles have varying amounts of white on their heads and breasts.
Look for them soaring overhead on the West End, perched on pilings near San Luis Pass, and following the ferries on the East End. No matter where you see one, be prepared for an awe-inspiring experience.
Kristine Rivers founded Birding for Fun in 2015, and is a popular tour guide and speaker whose enthusiasm for nature is contagious. A lifelong birder, she has been an area leader for the Brazoria Columbia Bottomlands Christmas Bird Count since 2011, and has been President of the Texas Master Naturalist Cradle of Texas chapter since January 2017.
Photo Credits: Kristine Rivers