Skip to page content

First ever magnificent frigatebird settles in Museum

06 July 2006

The first ever magnificent frigatebird found in Britain becomes part of the Natural History Museum bird collection.

Magnificent frigatebird showing inflated red pouch © E Kirdler/ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Magnificent frigatebird showing inflated red pouch it uses in courtship displays © E Kirdler/ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Frigatebirds are from the tropics and there have been only seven records of them in Britain and Ireland - only two of these could be identified as magnificent frigatebirds, Fregata magnificens .

Found on a farm

Shropshire farmer, Mr Handley, spotted the large black bird flapping about in a corner of a field in November 2005. The bird was blown off course during bad weather in the Atlantic.

The weak and emaciated bird was taken to the local wildlife hospital and later to Chester Zoo where it received expert care but died a month later.

Head of magnificent frigatebird specimen.

Head of magnificent frigatebird specimen.

The specimen was given to the Museum's bird expert, Katrina Cook, who carefully restored the bird.

'This was my first opportunity of handling what is my favourite bird species,' Katrina said. 'I crooned over it for ages and even inflated the enormous red gular (throat) pouch, which the male bird uses in courtship displays, with compressed air.'

Man-o-War birds

Frigatebirds, also known as Man-o-War birds, are strictly pelagic, inhabiting tropical seas, and they are unable to swim or even walk on land. They have a red coloured throat pouch that they inflate like a balloon in the breeding season.

Pirates of the sky
Drawing of a magnificent frigatebird in flight © Katrina Cook.

Drawing of a magnificent frigatebird in flight © Katrina Cook.

Frigatebirds are some of the most exciting birds to see alive. They obtain their food largely by piratical assaults on other birds, they swoop in and steal food from other flying birds.

Katrina explains, 'To see these birds in life is truly spectacular. Their long angled wings and deeply forked tail give them tremendous manoeuvrability as they pursue other birds, including other frigatebirds, for food in thrilling aerial 'dogfights'.'

'They are huge as well,' says Katrina. 'Their wingspan is almost two and a half metres and they look like you would imagine Pterodactyl to look as they pass overhead'.

Five species
The wingspan of the magnificent frigatebird can reach two and a half metres.

The wingspan of the magnificent frigatebird can reach two and a half metres.

There are five species of frigatebirds. Christmas Island, Ascension, Lesser, Great and Magnificent. The Museum specimen, an adult male magnificent frigatebird, was identified by its glossy all-dark plumage and by measurements, clearly separating it from the very similar ascension frigatebird Fregata aquila .

Other identifications

There have been only two other magnificent frigatebirds identified. One was a female found in poor condition on Tiree in the Inner Hebrides in 1953. It later died and is now at the Royal Museum of Scotland. It was considered to be Britain's only record of F. magnificens for 50 years but it was later re-identified as F. aquila .

The other bird was a female magnificent frigatebird taken exhausted into care on the Isle of Man where it clung to life in captivity for 10 months before dying in October 1999. The Isle of Man, being independent, is technically not part of Britain, so the Shropshire bird is the first official British record for this species.

The Museum's Bird Group  is based at the Natural History Museum at Tring

Further Information

External Links