Magnificent Frigatebird plumages (Tropical Storm Lee Part 2)

2011 September 11
by David J. Ringer

Magnificent Frigatebirds (Fregata magnificens) are highly aerial seabirds, able to stay aloft for several days at a time on spectacular 7- to 8-foot wingspans. Tropical storms and hurricanes often push them far inland, and indeed, slow-moving Tropical Storm Lee pushed frigatebirds all across southern Louisiana and Mississippi in early September.

Saturday morning, September 3, more than 40 frigatebirds appeared on a lake on Louisiana State University’s campus. James Maley reported them first, and birders converged. The birds were very accessible, offering an excellent opportunity to observe and photograph plumage features (in between rain bands, that is).


This immature bird shows a white head and underparts with an incomplete breast band, indicating it is young, probably in its first year of life.

The Birds of North America species account pretty well sums up what is and isn’t known about Magnificent Frigatebird plumages, which are complex and develop over several years. Of course, also present in the back of our minds is the wildly remote possibility of detecting one of the other frigatebird species, but I didn’t see or photograph any birds that looked suspicious.


This subadult shows clean white underparts, a feature thought to be associated with birds in about their second year. Also interesting on this bird is the asymmetrical mottling on the side of the breast and axillaries.


Adult (or near-adult) females, like this bird, show black heads and pink feet. I’m not sure what’s up with the smudgy brownish streaking on the sides of this bird’s breast.


Another female. Note pale tips to axillary feathers on underwing.


Mostly dark, but with some pale mottling still on underparts, this bird is an older subadult male.


And here, with a shriveled but still bright red gular sac and all-black plumage, is an adult male.


It was pretty mind-bending to see frigatebirds juxtaposed with crepe myrtles and houses.


Wide shot showing part of the impressive congregation.



Related posts:

  1. Birds of Tropical Storm Lee, Part 1
  2. Migrants before the storm
  3. Kumul Lodge, part one
  4. Birds of the Luzon tropical pine forests
  5. Pelagic birding in the Gulf of Mexico: Mississippi Canyon in September
One Response
  1. Lisa Berger permalink
    September 11, 2011

    Darn you D’inger. What happened to the young Gannet, as promised? Still waiting (in sing-song Hughes Network voice).

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