One of the Galapagos Islands’ favorite bird is the frigate. Its long and elegant black wings gliding through the sky, and its crimson-red inflated pouch is a sight to behold. There are a few things in life as mesmerizing as watching nature in the wild. However, there are only a few places on Earth where wildlife is as unbothered and unafraid of humans as in the Galapagos. To have the opportunity to walk amongst colonies of blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, Galapagos sea lions or marine iguanas in such close proximity is a true privilege. Nesting season, which follows right around this time of year for many Galapagos species, is a wonderful period in which to learn about their behaviors and adaptation patterns. During your Galapagos cruise – quite possibly one of the best way to experience the islands – you will be able to observe frigate birds throughout any and all of the itineraries for the Santa Cruz II. So, before jumping aboard this otherworldly experience, read on and learn more about frigate birds during their nesting season!
Though widely distributed throughout tropical waters, the Galapagos is one of the few places on the planet where both subspecies of the frigate bird – Great and Magnificent – coexist and share a habitat. This is possible because they don’t compete over nourishment or nesting areas. Great frigates remain close to the coast, while Magnificent frigates– the larger of the two – have more pelagic tendencies and look for nourishment in the open ocean for long periods of time. When seen from a distance, it can actually be kind of hard to tell which one is Great and which is Magnificent. However, subtle differences in color can aid in telling them apart. Great male frigates have a greenish sheen on their plumage, while Magnificent males’ sheen is purple. Some of the best places to observe them in larger numbers are Genovesa Island (visited through our Northern Islands itinerary) and North Seymour Island (visited through the Western Islands Itinerary).
It’s important to know that the nest is built even before a frigate has found a mate. It’s actually part of the mating process! Male frigates build their nest atop flat surfaces with a combination of guano and twigs. The quality of the nest along with the redness of the males pouch while it displays it mid-air is what the female will take into account before choosing a partner. Frigate bird females only lay one egg, every other year, because it can take as long as a year to nest the juvenile, and then an additional half a year before it flies. It is actually the bird with the longest period of immaturity, relying on its parents for nourishment even after it decides to start flying. It’s not uncommon to see chicks as big as their parents, still covered in juvenile feathers, patiently waiting under the sun for their parents to arrive with food.
So get your camera ready! You are certainly going to cross paths with these beautiful birds on most of your hikes, and there is a reason why it is one of the most photographed birds of the archipelago (and a member of the Galapagos Big15 group of iconic species). Marvel at their beautiful hues and flying abilities, and be careful not to get too close to a nest. No parent in the world likes strangers that close to their home!