Secrets of Christmas seabird revealed

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World News archive. | World bird news 2005 |  Secrets of Christmas seabird revealed

Christmas Island Frigatebird

Christmas Island Frigatebird

Scientists have gained a unique insight into the life of one of the world’s rarest and most enigmatic seabirds, the Christmas Island Frigatebird.

Christmas Island Frigatebird Fregata andrewsi is officially classified by BirdLife Inrternational as Critically Endangered. The species has a huge wingspan of up to 2.5 metres and was named after its piratical habit of snatching food from other seabirds. It is sometimes known as the "Man o’ War bird" after the Portuguese pirate ships or frigates that plied the oceans hundreds of years ago.

During 2005, scientists from Parks Australia have been satellite tagging the frigatebirds at their Indian Ocean nesting site in an attempt to find out more about their movements. Parks Australia was awarded four satellite-transmitting devices (known as Platform Terminal Transmitters) by the American Bird Conservancy in an international grant competition in 2005. The devices (worth about US $3000 each) were donated by North Star Science and Technology, the manufacturers of the devices and founders of the grant program

As part of this research ornithologists were amazed to discover that one particular bird, nicknamed ‘Lydia’ had undertaken a non-stop 26 day, 4,000 km return flight which took her via Sumatra and Borneo including an overland flight crossing Java’s mountains and volcanoes.

It is almost certain that Lydia didn’t land during the mammoth journey. Indeed it’s likely that she fed at sea and slept on the wing, probably at altitudes of hundreds or thousands of metres. During her travels, Lydia’s single chick, who is about 6 months old and just about to start flying, waited patiently on his nest where he was probably fed fish by his father.

"With only around 1,200 pairs confined to this small island in the Indian Ocean, the Christmas Island Frigatebird is one of the world’s most threatened seabirds. This new satellite-tracking data will add enormously to our knowledge of the species," commented BirdLife's Ed Parnell.

"It is tragically ironic, that while Lydia nests on one the world’s most remote and pristine islands, she makes her living in some of the most degraded seas on the planet." —David James, Parks Australia

The seas of southeast Asia are becoming a perilous place for seabirds. Fishing levels are very high and frigatebirds are extremely susceptible to entanglement in fishing gear. Marine pollution levels are also high.

"We suspect that the Christmas Island Frigatebird uses these seas because of the huge freshwater input from the tropical rivers of the region. However, deforestation is now silting these rivers, and gold mining activities are poisoning the waterways and fish with mercury. It is tragically ironic, that while Lydia nests on one the world’s most remote and pristine islands, she makes her living in some of the most degraded seas on the planet," said David James, Coordinator of Biodiversity Monitoring for Christmas Island National Park.

It is hoped the transmitter will continue to track Lydia’s travels around south-east Asia until May 2006, so scientists can find out where she spends her non-breeding season.

non-stop 26 day, 4,000 km return flightnon-stop 26 day, 4,000 km return flight
This map shows the record-breaking journey undertaken by the Frigatebird
click here to view a larger version of this map

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World News archive. | World bird news 2005 |  Secrets of Christmas seabird revealed

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