Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Great Great Frigatebird Experience

In south Florida, it was always a thrill to see a Magnificent Frigatebird soar overhead, often close to shore. But I've never truly been among them. These high flyers were always farther away from me than I'd like, although I'm happy to take what I can get. But Seychelles was a different story.

It happened because Maureen's uncles were keen on taking a men-only fishing trip, which entailed renting a boat and a couple of guides to help navigate us to some of the Indian Ocean's more abundant waters, while still staying in sight of the island. I was sorry to have to leave Maureen behind, but it's hard to turn down a chance to patrol the seas halfway across the world from where you live. 

The trip began as uneventfully as you'd expect of any fishing trip. The engine droned on while a line trailed off the stern of the boat. Nothing was biting, but I couldn't have cared less, since I wasn't the one holding onto the pole. Besides, I was trying to best position myself for watching the shearwaters glide about, once I realized that we weren't alone out there.


I don't remember how long it was before the first frigatebird appeared, but when it did, the fishermen seemed as interested as I was, which is to say, very. They immediately sprang into action, and brought the boat around a direct course with it. Then we saw another, and another.

At first, I couldn't understand what the birds had to do with us, although I certainly welcomed the turn of events. While I had assumed that the guides had known all along where we would end up fishing, it turned out that the fishermen were seeking guidance from a higher power: Great Frigatebirds. Who knows better than a frigatebird where the fish are? We merely had to free-ride on their vigilance.


From that point on, I was finally among frigatebirds. They circled the boat for extended periods, sometimes only 30 or 40 feet above us! Frigatebirds don't plunge-dive like Northern Gannets or Brown Pelicans (their feathers have practically no waterproofing), so they're forced to catch their food at the surface. One of the most incredible sights of the day was watching them chase down flying fish, and snap them up as they leapt out of the water.

Seychelles, having been settled by pirates in the 17th century, is an entirely appropriate place to find frigatebirds. Frigatebirds, like pirates, are kleptoparasites, and make their living largely by theft out on the open seas. I didn't witness any major aerial showdowns that day, but I still got quite a show, and a great Great Frigatebird experience.


  1. Great post Nicholas! Frigatebirds are amazing! It must have so cool to watch them fishing close by. I've only seen them patrolling from high in the sky (in the Keys).

    1. Thanks, Tammy! Frigatebirds are one of my favorite types of bird. High or low, they're always incredible to watch, but it was definitely a treat to see them in action so near the boat

  2. Frigatebirds have an awesome name and an awesome silhouette. It was have been really great to see them in action too. I saw a lot of them in Belize, but only ever kiting above the beach (they really did looks like kites).

    Such a manly trip...did y'all grow mustaches and eat big piles of beef afterwards ??

    1. Afterwards? Our mustaches couldn't wait that long. They burst forth at the first frigatebird.

      Their silhouettes really are badass

    2. That's good to hear. I guess it goes without saying, but crafting a mustache after a Frigatebird's silhouette would be prodigiously sweet.

      Since it looks like your hirsute face still hasn't recovered from that manly trip, might I suggest some very precise and crafty sculpting??
      Just think, your own mustache style...'The Frigatebird'

    3. You've given me a lot to think about, Laurence. Yes sir... a lot to think about