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February 12, 2007

Master's of flight - Buccaneers of the skies!

One of the most beautiful birds in the Caribbean - at least in terms of flight - is the Frigate Bird. These graceful birds drift about the skies, following ships, boats and anything else that may turn up a meal. They are birds I have read about in numerous books and they are always described as graceful and effortless fliers. They are also frequently described as the signal that the Tropics and the West Indies in particular are near, not surprising since they are natives to these parts. What is surprising is that they cannot fish for themselves, simply put, they cannot get into the water.

Frigate Birds.JPG
A pair of Frigate Birds soar above Downtown Kingston near the water front.

The reason is quite simple; their feathers lack the oils which would waterproof them and, if they land in the water, they are in trouble. That said, they can and do scoop smaller fish from the surface, one reason they follow ships is because the passage of a ship - and the rubbish sometimes dumped by them - attracts fish to the surface where the Frigate Birds can get at them. However, they are much more adept at stealing fish from other birds. Pelicans, Cormorants and even the ubiquitous gulls are no match for these sky pirates. They will even rob each other to get food, true "Buccaneers of the Caribbean".

They are quite large birds with a very large wingspan and a long tail which, opens out into a classic swallowtail and to watch them gliding effortlessly on the air currents is pure magic. They appear to be of the Albatross family - my ornithological references are a bit thin on that aspect - with a long narrow and jointed wing, long beak and head and narrow body. They land only to breed and raise the chicks and then take to the air again spending almost all their lives aloft. Buccaneers they may well be, but they have a grace and a presence that gives them a magic that makes one indulge their depredations on their fellow sea birds.

Posted by The Gray Monk at February 12, 2007 09:22 PM

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