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Great Frigatebird - BirdForum Opus

Adult male F.m. ridgwayi
Photo © by Robert Davis
Galapagos, 27 January 2007
Fregata minor


Adult female F.m. ridgwayi
Photo © by Ronald B. Davis
Darwin Bay, Isla Genovesa, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, 1 February 2006

82–105 cm (32¼-41¼ in)

  • Black with green gloss
  • Red pouch expanded when displaying
  • Often paler line diagonal on upper wing
  • Red or reddish-brown legs and feet (difficult to see)


  • Mostly black
  • White on throat and upper breast, reaching almost the bill (very little dark in chin area)
  • Red eye-ring


  • Mostly black
  • White on breast
  • Yellowish/orange/tawny on head and and upper breast (this may fade due to sun, but usually still visible on central breast)

Similar species

Juvenile F.m. ridgwayi
Photo © by nkgray
Isla Genovesa, Galapagos, 13 November 2013

Other Frigatebirds. The adult male is almost identical to the adult male of the Magnificent Frigatebird. Differences include the brown carpal bar on the upper wing (present on Great, missing on adult Magnificent), and more greenish iridescence on the back of Great, more purple on Magnificent (this difference not always reliable). Great is also a somewhat smaller bird, and tends to forage out to sea avoiding coastal waters inhabited by the larger Magnificent Frigatebird. Female Great can be distinguished from the female Magnificent, by its pink, not blue orbital ring.


Widespread tropical Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Accidental to the United States with records in Oklahoma and off the coast of California.



Adult female F.m. palmerstoni'
Photo © by Neil
Oahu, Hawaii, USA, 3 September 2004

Five subspecies are recognized[1]:

  • F.m. palmerstoni:
  • Breeds islands in w. and central Pacific
  • F.m. ridgwayi:
  • Breeds e. Pacific on Revillagigedo, Cocos and Galapagos Islands
  • F.m. nicolli:
  • Breeds Tinidade Is. and Martin Vaz Is.; ranges to Brazil
  • F.m. aldabrensis:
  • Breeds w. Indian Ocean on Aldabra and adjacent islands
  • F.m. minor:
  • Cocos and Christmas Is. (Indian Ocean); Paracel Is. (S. China Sea)


They breed in mangos on remote tropical islands, otherwise mainly pelagic.



Their diet consists mostly of fish, particularly flying fish.


Clutch is one whitish egg. The nest is a large platforms of loosely woven twigs. The chicks are dependent on the adults for nearly a year after hatching, an exceptionally long time for any bird.


Usually silent except at breeding colonies. May give grating calls when excited.


Mostly sedentary. Immatures and non-breeders disperse through tropical seas.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Orta, J., Kirwan, G.M., Garcia, E.F.J. & Boesman, P. (2019). Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/52670 on 9 November 2019).
  3. Birdforum thread discussing id of Frigatebirds
  4. Gauger Metz, V. H. and E. A. Schreiber (2002). Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.681
  5. Gregory, P. (2017) Birds of New Guinea, Including Bismarck Archipelago and Boughainville. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  6. Howell, S.N.G., Lewington, I. & Russell, W. (2014) Rare Birds of North America. Princeton Univ. Press
  7. Howell, S. N. G. and K. Zufelt (2019) Oceanic Birds of the World: A Photo Guide. Princeton Univ. Press.
  8. Pratt, H.D., Bruner, P., and Berrett, D.G. (1987) A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton University Press.
  9. Pyle, R.L., and P. Pyle. 2017. The Birds of the Hawaiian Islands: Occurrence, History, Distribution, and Status. B.P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu, HI, U.S.A. Version 2 (1 January 2017) http://hbs.bishopmuseum.org/birds/rlp-monograph/

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