At a Glance
In North America, Magnificent Frigatebirds are seen most commonly in Florida. However, they also appear regularly along the Gulf Coast, and strays have turned up in many parts of the continent.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Frigatebird, Gull-like Birds
Coasts and Shorelines, Open Ocean
California, Florida, Southeast, Southwest, Texas
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats, Soaring
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Apparently not truly migratory. Present year-round in southern Florida; in northern Florida and along Gulf Coast, more common in summer. Nesting colonies are widely dispersed among islands and coasts of tropical America (and very locally off west Africa), but nonbreeders and immatures are seen far from colonies at all seasons. Small numbers (mostly immatures) regularly wander inland in southwest in summer. Rarely wanders north along coasts or far inland.
38-40" (97-102 cm). W. 7'6 (2.3 m). Very large, with long, narrow, angular wings; long tail; long hooked bill. Adult male all black with red throat pouch, sometimes inflated in display; female has white chest, juvenile has white head. Nothing else is really similar (Swallow-tailed Kite is much smaller, has blue-gray back).
About the size of a Heron
Black, Brown, Red, White
Long, Pointed, Tapered
Forked, Long, Pointed
Songs and Calls
Usually silent at sea; harsh guttural calls during courtship.
Chatter, Odd, Rattle
Oceanic coasts, islands. Occurs over warm waters, usually along coast but also far offshore at times. Also soars inland in coastal areas (for example, crosses isthmus of Panama from one ocean to the other). Strays are rarely seen far inland around fresh water. Nests on islands, usually small islands with dense growth of mangroves or other trees or shrubs.
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One. White. Incubation is by both sexes, probably 40-50 days. Young: Both parents feed young. Nest is never left unguarded until young are half-grown, as other members of colony will eat eggs or young at unattended nest. Male departs after about 12 weeks, female continues to feed young. Age at first flight 20-24 weeks; female will feed young for additional 16 weeks or more. Total breeding cycle for female thus lasts about a year; most females probably do not breed every year.
Both parents feed young. Nest is never left unguarded until young are half-grown, as other members of colony will eat eggs or young at unattended nest. Male departs after about 12 weeks, female continues to feed young. Age at first flight 20-24 weeks; female will feed young for additional 16 weeks or more. Total breeding cycle for female thus lasts about a year; most females probably do not breed every year.
Forages in the air, swooping close to water to take items from on or near surface, making very little contact with water. Never swims. Forages in the same way over land, taking prey from beaches without landing. Also feeds by piracy, chasing other birds, forcing them to drop or disgorge their food.
Mostly fish. Feeds mainly on small fish, also squid, jellyfish, crustaceans. Takes hatchling turtles, young terns and other birds, sometimes eggs. Also scavenges for scraps around fishing boats, docks.
Breeds in colonies, with nests often very close together. Perched males display (often in groups) by inflating throat pouch to huge red balloon, raising bill high, vibrating partially spread wings, swiveling back and forth, and calling. Females flying overhead are attracted to group, choose one male as mate. Nest: Site usually in mangroves, trees, or bushes 2-20' above ground or water, sometimes on ground. Nest (built mostly by female, with materials brought by male) a flimsy platform of sticks.
Total population difficult to monitor; probably has declined at some tropical colonies. Although known as a common visitor to Florida since the 1800s, not confirmed breeding there until late 1960s (on Marquesas Keys). At the well-watched Dry Tortugas, did not begin nesting until 1988.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Magnificent Frigatebird. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Magnificent Frigatebird
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.