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Attention! Frigatebird Hatchlings Are Emerging This Month!

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Galapagos Frigatebird Chick

Frigatebird chicks are in season! Even though the summer is almost over in most of the northern hemisphere, the fun doesn’t have to end here in Galapagos. There’s always something to see in the Galapagos year-round. Seeing the adorable hatchlings of the Galapagos frigatebirds is the ideal way to commemorate the last few days of summer.

Safety and Sustained Nutrition Are Essential For Frigatebird Chicks

The spectacular and huge Galapagos frigatebirds welcome their small counterparts into the family following an elaborate courtship ritual (see below) that can last anywhere from two to three months, followed by a very lengthy incubation procedure that usually starts in March. When these little frigatebirds hatch, they don’t resemble their parents; instead, their fluffy, white down plumage almost gives the impression that they belong to the incorrect family.

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One of many frigatebird chicks during hatching season.
One of many frigatebird chicks during hatching season.

However, the parents are aware that it is theirs, and they take every precaution to safeguard their petite chick from predators, ensuring that they are not disturbed in the unlikely event that they are absent. While one parent looks after the fledgling, the other goes out for food. The mother frigatebird is left to care for the baby bird (primarily by feeding it) for six to nine months while the father stretches his wings and takes off. This procedure can take anywhere from five to six months. 

Elegance Lies in the Beholder’s Pouch

A few months later, you will arguably witness one of the most ostentatious and avian courtship displays in the Galapagos. Male frigatebirds often enlarge their bright red pouches to significant proportions to attract females.

When food supplies are at their most abundant, in the early months of the year, entire breeding colonies are dotted with these gular sucks, which by the time they reach their maximum size, resemble leathery balloons. Because magnificent and great frigatebirds are opportunistic breeders, they only mate when the environment is conducive to successful reproduction.

Why is the recognizable red bag inflated? Females prefer males that exhibit the biggest, brightest, and most saturated reds; they use these traits as indicators of which males are worthy of their attention and, hopefully, their fertility. 

Galapagos frigatebird showing its gular sac.
Galapagos frigatebird displaying its attributes.

In addition to puffing up their pouches, males engage in a comical and animated routine in which they spread and twitch their wings and occasionally swivel their heads. The female will come down from the sky to select the ideal partner if their gambit is good enough.

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Across the archipelago, travelers may get up close and personal with the frigatebirds (both great and magnificent, and a BIG15 species) on our Western and Northern Galapagos trips.

Updated:June 6, 2024

Published:August 14, 2017

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