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BirdNote: Thieving Frigatebirds

Air Date: Week of

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

A frigatebird attacks a seabird for its meal. (Photo: Neil Winkelmann)

Some seabirds are brilliant at catching fish, but as Mary McCann explains, blue-footed boobies need to watch out for hungry thieving Frigatebirds.



CURWOOD: One of the most glorious sights of tropical oceans is the vision of the
Magnificent Frigatebird soaring over the waves. But as Mary McCann points out in today’s BirdNote, sometimes the way these fork-tailed creatures behave is – well, less than magnanimous.

Frigatebirds’ Kleptoparasitism
[Featured bird sound/audio]

MCCANN: Some birds are masters at catching fish. In the warmer regions of the world’s oceans, large seabirds called “boobies” plunge headfirst into the water, snatching fish in their dagger-shaped bills. But as a booby flies up from the waves with a fish now in its gullet, there may be another big seabird, a frigatebird, waiting overhead, with its eye on the booby and on the booby’s fresh catch.

[Red-footed Booby aggressive call, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/6036, .32-.33]

Airborne Frigatebird. (Photo: José Zayas)

Now begins one of nature’s great chase scenes. The booby flaps full throttle away from the frigatebird, but there’s no escaping. With a light body suspended on long, narrow wings and a long, scissor-like tail to match, the frigatebird is faster and more agile. It lopes up behind the frantic booby and with its long, slender, hooked bill, clamps onto the booby’s tail or wing-tip. Thus snagged in mid-air, the booby flails. A crash is imminent, unless it surrenders what the frigatebird wants. So it disgorges the fish it’s just captured. The frigatebird releases the booby and swiftly snatches the free-falling fish.

[Magnificent Frigatebird, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/136232, 0.04-.06]

Fortunately for boobies, frigatebirds don’t steal all their meals. Most of the time, they hunt their own seafood, perhaps a squid snapped from the ocean surface or a flying fish as it skims across the waves.

But now and again, when a chance comes up, they’ll take it.

I’m Mary McCann.

[Magnificent Frigatebird, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/136232, 0.04-.06]
Written by Bob Sundstrom
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.
6036 recorded by Robert J. Shallenberger and 136232 recorded by Martha J. Fischer.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie
© 2017 Tune In to Nature.org March 2017 Narrator: Mary McCann
Video of frigatebird kleptoparasitism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifes66o4t7s
Another good source is http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Fregatidae/

CURWOOD: And for photos, soar on over to our website, LOE.org.



Listen on the BirdNote website

More about Frigatebirds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds

Another BirdNote about Frigatebirds


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