Thursday, October 7, 2010

Magnificents' feeding frenzy

While driving in the Coastal Beltway of Panama City, I was able to see a huge flock of at least 40 Magnificent Frigatebirds flying over the bridge at the mouth of the Mataznillo river, at the easternmost end of the way. I could not resist to stop at a parking lot to inspect the action, just to realize that the frigatebirds were out of control, chasing each other, making all sort of acrobactics, harassing all the other birds at the site (including gulls, herons and pelicans) and repeatedly flying low in order to pick up food from the water with their bills.
If you enlarge the above photo, you could count no less than 15 frigatebirds! All these birds were females (with black heads and white chests) or young birds (with white heads). I saw not a single male in the group. As you can see in the photo (from Farfan beach, at the west bank of the Panama Canal), the males are all dark-coloured, but they exhibit a spectacular red throat sack inflated during courtship displays at their breeding grounds. These are big birds, unique among the seabirds because they never float in the water, nor swim. They are perfect flying machines, covering great distances effortlessly, and the true pirates of the seas, stealing food from smaller seabirds!And they are so agile! I witnessed it during my last pelagic trip, when a group of females followed our boat, maneuvering with spectacular agility in order to catch in the air the sardines that we were throwing to them!

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