Tag Archive | Bay of Banderas

Magnificent Frigatebird

A Magical Mexico Moment

November 15, 2022

One of the best things about traveling is the opportunity to experience what is to us, as travelers, exotic plants and animals. As I have, ahem, matured, I spend more time truly looking at the plants and am particularly more aware of unusual birds.

On my recent trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I was able to channel my inner Crazy Bird Lady. It was glorious.

The first day there I didn’t really focus so much on the birds. After all, birds are just part of the landscape. But then, because our son had rented an AirBnB perched on a steep hill above PV, I started to notice that these birds were not exactly like the robins, sparrows, and crows which populate our corner of the world.

It was a particularly large bird which caught my attention due, in great part, to their sheer size, their unusual tail feathers, and the quantity of them. Of course, having never seen such a bird, I went scurrying to the internet to try to identify it. I was not disappointed. Soon I found a helpful chart with pictures and names of the various birds found in Puerto Vallarta as seen here:

I pored over my chart, eventually settling on the Magnificent Frigate bird as the ones we were seeing soaring above us. According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Frigatebirds are a family of seabirds called Fregatidae which are found across all tropical and subtropical oceans. The five extant species are classified in a single genus, Fregata. All have predominantly black plumage, long, deeply forked tails and long hooked bills. Females have white underbellies and males have a distinctive red gular pouch, which they inflate during the breeding season to attract females. Their wings are long and pointed and can span up to 2.3 metres (7.5 ft), the largest wing area to body weight ratio of any bird.

Able to soar for weeks on wind currents, frigatebirds spend most of the day in flight hunting for food, and roost on trees or cliffs at night. Their main prey are fish and squid, caught when chased to the water surface by large predators such as tuna. Frigatebirds are referred to as kleptoparasites as they occasionally rob other seabirds for food, and are known to snatch seabird chicks from the nest. Seasonally monogamous, frigatebirds nest colonially. A rough nest is constructed in low trees or on the ground on remote islands. A single egg is laid each breeding season. The duration of parental care is among the longest of any bird species; frigatebirds are only able to breed every other year.”

I enjoyed looking for the Frigate Birds each morning as they soared high above where we were staying and watched them as they flew out and over the Bay of Banderas. It was on our third day in PV that we secured a boat trip out to the Marietas Islands for an all day tour. As it turned out, the islands are the breeding grounds for the Frigate Birds and we saw dozens of them as we approached.

The author with the Marietas Islands in the distance

The afternoon included snorkeling, an ‘eco-tour’, and my son and I both wanted to swim through a rock arch cave to an area known as the hidden beach (for an extra fee, of course!).

They took us by a smaller boat to the spot where we – only allowed to wear a life jacket over our bathing suits and a helmet – were to swim through the arch to the beach where we would be able to spend 24 minutes.

By now I imagine some of you are asking “Twenty four minutes? That specific?” Yes, that specific. The feature is controlled by the Mexican version of the National Park Service and only a limited number of people are allowed in on any given day.

To get there takes a whole lot of effort. I do not know how far we had to struggle through the rough ocean, but it was difficult. My swimming method was, mostly, backwards and on my back. At one point my son and I linked our right arms with him swimming forward and me backwards, each using our free arm and our legs for propulsion.

When we got to the beach we were tired and it was several minutes before I noticed a large bird just sitting in the sand about 20 feet away. Was it injured?

The archway we had to swim to and through to get to the hidden beach.

None of those who had swum to the beach knew for sure, so we gave the impressive animal its space.

We wandered around the beach and, eventually, the photographer they sent with our group snapped photos of my son and me so we had evidence that we had been there. After our photo shoot was finished I had a thought. Could we get a picture with the bird which I had identified as the Magnificent Frigate Bird?

After we were back on the boat with the larger group, the photographer came by to sell us our photos from the day. It was then that he told us that when he was back out with the next group, the bird – apparently not injured and only resting – had flown away on its own.

For this Crazy Bird Lady it seems as if that incredible creature had been there just for us. It was the most magical moment of the trip thanks to the Magnificent Frigate bird.

My son and me with the Magnificent Frigatebird who welcomed us to the beach. We know it’s a male bird as you can see his bright red gular pouch. The photographer took several photos of us with the bird but I chose this one because I swear the bird is smiling!

A couple of links: