We recently quoted Emma Lewis (blogger at Petchary’s Blog), writing on Simply Antigua Barbuda, about the fact that Barbuda has the largest Frigate Bird Sanctuary in the western hemisphere. Here is a little more information about the sanctuary:
The Antigua and Barbuda blog reports: Barbuda’s Frigate Bird Sanctuary is located in the island’s northwestern lagoon and is accessible only by boat. The sanctuary contains over 170 species of birds and is home to over 5,000 frigate birds. Fregata magnificens, the most aerial of waterbirds, possesses the largest wingspan (four to five feet) in proportion to its body size of any bird in the world. It is also known as the man o’ war bird, and the comparison to warships is a particularly apt one–with its superior size and flight capabilities, the frigate bird harasses less agile flyers like pelicans, egrets, and cormorants until they drop their catch. The male frigate is marked by its red throat pouch, which it can inflates as part of its courtship behaviour and as a defensive display. Courting takes place in the fall, and chicks hatch late in the year.
Lonely Planet describes: The expansive, shallow Codrington Lagoon National Park, which runs along Barbuda’s west coast, supports one of the world’s largest colonies of frigate birds. Over 5000 of these black-feathered critters nest in sections of the lagoon’s scrubby mangroves – with as many as a dozen birds roosting on a single bush. Because of this density, the birds’ nesting sites are all abuzz with squawking, and the sight of all those blood-red inflating throat pouches is mesmerizing.
The most popular time to visit the rookery is during the mating season, from September to April (December is peak time). While the male frigate birds line up in the bushes, arch their heads back and puff out their pouches with an air of machismo as part of the elaborate courtship rituals, the females take to the sky. When one spots a suitor that impresses her, she’ll land and initiate a mating ritual. After mating, a nest is built from twigs that the male gathers. The female lays a single egg that both birds incubate in turn. It takes about seven weeks for the chick to hatch, and nearly six months for it to learn to fly and finally leave the nest.
Among the other bird species inhabiting the lagoon are pelicans, terns and gulls, as well as such endemic critters as the tropical mockingbird, the Christmas bird and the endangered West Indian whistling tree duck.