Episode 255 – Magnificent Frigatebird: A Pirate’s Flight

“…and today we are talking about the Pirates of the Caribbean, but not the movie. More on that later.”

Out on the high seas, it’s a dog eat dog eat bird eat other bird’s food kinda world. Yer never safe when you have booty to take home to the littl’uns. You’ll have to keep yer eyes on the skies, as there lurks a thief with wings blacker than his heart, ready to wring the devil out of ya and set sail with yer precious treasure. So if yer a tropical island bird, you better watch for the shadow of the magnificent frigatebird here on Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Magnificent Frigatebird

  • Males are all-black except their throats.
  • They have a bright red throat pouch that they can inflate like a balloon.
  • Some black feathers have a purple iridescence in the light. 
  • Females are black with a white chest, brown on their wings.
  • They have blue rings around their eyes that are exclusive to the females.
  • Young birds have white heads and underbellies.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at Gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro!


  • 89–114 cm (2 ft 11 in – 3 ft 9 in)
  • How many frigatebirds go into the longest ever soccer goal?
  • Hint: The goal was made by Tom King, playing for Newport County in the UK in January 2021. Too bad England couldn’t stop the longshot that the U.S. brought to them on the 26th.
  • 84 frigate birds. The goal was 96.01 m (315 feet).


  • 1.1–1.59 kilograms (2 lb 7 oz – 3 lb 8 oz)
  • How many frigatebirds go into the weight of the manhole covers stolen in New York City in the spring of 2012?
  • Hint: Every once and a while manhole cover crime sprees crop up in major cities, despite the fact that they are extremely heavy, in public areas, and only sell to scrap dealers for around $30. Pound for pound, they may be less valuable than collecting cans. In 2012, a NYC man dressed in a reflective vest and carried a men working sign to steal manhole covers that were around 300 pounds. In reality, they were probably different weights. Sidewalk covers are lighter than road covers, but the New York Times reported that many of them were 300 pounds, so we are assuming they all were. 
  • 2,228.5 frigatebirds.The thieves stole 26 covers, totalling 7,800 lbs.

Fast Facts about the Magnificent Frigatebird


The magnificent frigatebird lives all over the tropical Atlantic in Florida, the Caribbean, and on the Pacific coast of North and South America. 

They can also be found in the Galápagos Islands. They can sometimes venture outside of their normal range in Canada and Europe, including the UK, Denmark, Spain, and Nova Scotia.


Magnificent frigatebirds eat mostly seafood, including fish, squid, jellyfish and crustaceans. However, their diet can depend on what is available, how they like to hunt, and how old they are. 


During mating season, males attract females by inflating their red throat sacks and clacking their beaks together to create a rapid fire, hollow tapping sound. 

Females are attracted to males by the sound and bright red color, but they are believed to choose males by the nest site he has choses.

They nest in trees and bushes, especially on islands with mangroves. It’s a fairly traditional nest with branches and twigs. They lay a single egg at a time. 

Both males and females sit on the egg for 50 to 60 days

Male parents abandon the egg after it hatches, while female parents provide care for the young for almost a year.

Major Fact: A Pirate’s Flight for Me

Maggies can hunt for their food when needed, but why get your own food when you can just steal someone else’s?

They have developed aggressive harrying techniques to either snap up fish that other birds have just routed or flushed out – particularly flying fish.

Their size and often their numbers allow them to single out gulls or even lone frigatebirds to literally steal their lunch in a practice known as kleptoparasitism. Which involves stealing from others to sustain yourself–like the government.

But the fun doesn’t end if the other bird manages to swallow their prey when they see the bullies approaching. 

The frigatebird will poke and prod the other bird until it vomits up its booty! 

This isn’t as nasty as it sounds, since sea birds tend to try and swallow their prey whole into their crop to take back to their nests, so usually a whole and still-living fish is spat back out, which the frigatebird tries to catch before it hits the water.

All this is done in mid-air, leading to some pretty impressive in-flight acrobatics like two floppy blue angels.

If the other bird is small enough, the frigatebird might even grab them with their beak and pull them around until they open their mouths to squawk in distress and release their treasure

Their favorite approach is an attack from above and behind the target bird.

They’ll just sneak up and shake the devil out of him until the food is dropped.

The frigatebirds aren’t as maneuverable, but they’re much bigger and often faster than their quarry. They also can’t fly well if their feathers get wet.

So bringing home the bacon involves thrashing the bird nerds until they give up their lunch money.

It’s like Barbossa mixed with that 30-year-old high school bully from Napoleon Dynamite.

Ending: So inflate your gular sac, take what you can, and give nothin’ back like the magnificent frigatebird here in LDT.