Imagine being a bird that could only eat fish but couldn’t get wet.... Hard to visualise isn’t it? Antigua and Barbuda has such birds trying to find fish year round, and their story is an interesting one. These birds are unable to take off from flat surfaces and don’t have the normal feather waterproofing that most sea birds have. The Magnificent Frigate Bird also known as Man of War or even Weather Bird lives its life feeding on fish without being able to dive into the ocean like many of their cousins. They accomplish this by using two very interesting fishing methods. The first is very brutish indeed. From a distance they observe other birds capturing fish and at that moment they dive out of the sky as if in a scene like one out of the TOP GUN film, a marvellous display of aerial acrobatics unfolds. Usually the bird that’s worked for the catch is dodging left and right up and down squawking with the Frigate dangerously close behind its tail feathers. Eventually they’re left with no option but to drop the freshly caught fish, and in mid air the Frigate catches the stolen prize and smugly, swallows quickly.
Most of the Frigate’s diet is caught in a less criminal manner with them actually working for it. Out in the deep waters off the continental drop off, big pelagic fish are spotted by the birds who usually are hovering high in the sky. They slowly follow a big mahi mahi, wahoo, marlin or tuna waiting patiently for one of these big pelagic predators to find a school of flying fish. They school in large numbers out in the Atlantic trying to evade a harmful variety of predators. As soon as they are spotted the large predator fish accelerates up to 40 mph right into the middle of the flying fish. None of this has been missed by the frigate who usually is diving out of the sky like a black missile with wings folded for extra speed at this point. At the moment when the flying fish sees the large fish coming, they also accelerate and leap out of the water spreading their large pectoral fins which act as wings, helping them glide away from the jaws of a hungry mahi mahi. Of course some of them fall victim to the frigate birds who catch the fish in mid air during their failed escapes. It’s always amazing to see this drama up close when you are off shore in the Atlantic, and nobody keeps an eye on this dance more than deep sea fishermen. In fact, they spend more time scanning the skies for frigate birds and keeping an eye on them once they spot them than they do looking for fish fish. Find frigate birds feeding out at sea and you will find big fish under them. Each animal out on the ocean has an interesting story to tell, and I hope you enjoyed this one.