Christmas frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi)

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Male Christmas frigatebird displaying
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Christmas frigatebird fact file

Christmas frigatebird description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPelecaniformes
FamilyFregatidae
GenusFregata (1)

The Christmas frigatebird is a very large, mostly black seabird with a glossy green sheen to feathers of the head and back (4). Females are larger than males (5); they have a white breast and belly, a narrow white collar around the lower neck and a whitish bar across the upperwing (4). Males are dark all over apart from a white patch on the lower abdomen. They have a red gular pouch, which becomes more vibrant in the breeding season and is inflated during mating displays (4). Juveniles have more mottled feathers on their upper-parts (2), a pale fawn head, white throat and a russet necklace (4). They take around four years to gain adult plumage (4).

Also known as
Andrew's or Christmas Island frigatebird.
French
Frégate d'Andrews.
Size
Length: 89 - 100 cm (2)
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Christmas frigatebird biology

Males Christmas frigatebirds begin their mating displays in late December (4), inflating their scarlet throat pouches during courtship (2). Egg laying occurs between March and May and nests are positioned high in tall forest trees (6). A single egg is laid and both parents take it in turns during the 50 to 54 day incubation period; fledglings can remain dependant on their parents for six to seven months after their first flight (4).

The Christmas frigatebird feeds mainly on flying fish and cephalopods (such as squid), which are scooped from the surface of the water (6). A proportion of its food is obtained by harassing other seabirds such as red-footed boobies (Sula sula), until they are forced to regurgitate their meal (4).

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Christmas frigatebird range

The Christmas frigatebird is found in the northeast Indian Ocean, these birds are only known to breed on Christmas Island (4). The distribution of birds at sea is not well documented but they may wander widely and are known from the coasts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand (6) and northern Australia (4).

See this species on Google Earth.

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Christmas frigatebird habitat

Although these birds do not settle on the water, they inhabit the open ocean, returning to land only to roost and breed. Both nesting and roosting occur on a small area of Christmas Island, in tall forest close to the shore (4). Nesting sites are preferentially in the lee of the prevailing southeast winds (4).

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Christmas frigatebird status

The Christmas frigatebird is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered

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Christmas frigatebird threats

Habitat destruction and human predation have been the major causes of population decline in the past (6); dust pollution from phosphate mine driers caused one major nesting site to be abandoned (4). Dust suppression equipment has since been installed and human predation has ceased since this species has been protected (4). Birds that have been displaced in the past may now be using sub-optimal habitat, which could pose a threat to their survival (4). The Christmas frigatebird is confined to a few breeding colonies on a single island and this, together with their low reproductive rate (4), makes the population alarmingly vulnerable to any chance event.

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Christmas frigatebird conservation

Christmas Island National Park was established in 1989 and contains two of the three current breeding populations of this species (5). Christmas frigatebirds are also protected outside of the park and by Migratory Bird Agreements between Australia and other countries (4). This species remains highly vulnerable however, and the close monitoring of breeding success and population size remains a high priority (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more information on the Christmas frigatebird see:

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Authentication

Authenticated (22/10/02) by Max Orchard, Environment Australia.
http://www.ea.gov.au/index.html

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Glossary

Cephalopods
From the Greek for ‘head-foot’, a class of molluscs that occur only in marine habitats. All species have grasping tentacles, and either an internal or external shell. Includes nautiloids, cuttlefish, squids, octopuses, and extinct ammonites and belemnites.
Colonies
A group of organisms living together, individuals in the group are not physiologically connected and may not be related, such as a colony of birds. Another meaning refers to organisms, such as bryozoans, which are composed of numerous genetically identical modules (also referred to as zooids or ‘individuals’), which are produced by budding and remain physiologically connected.
Gular pouch
A large distensible pouch below the bill of some birds.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Erritzoe, J. (1993) The Birds of CITES and How to Identify Them. The Lutterworth Press, Cambridge.
  3. CITES (October, 2002)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Orchard, M. (2002) Pers. comm.
  5. BirdLife International. (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge.
  6. BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
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Image credit

Male Christmas frigatebird displaying  
Male Christmas frigatebird displaying

© J.N. Hoogesteger / naturalvisions.co.uk

Natural Visions
6 Vicarage Hill
Farnham
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GU9 8HJ
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1252 716 700
Fax: +44 (0) 1252 727 464
info@naturalvisions.co.uk
http://www.naturalvisions.co.uk/

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