The Seabird Pirates


Story Behind the Science

Frigatebirds are known as the pirates of the seabird world. They will attack other flying seabirds and force them to spit out fish they just caught by pulling at their legs and tail feathers. Then, with great agility, the frigatebird will swoop down and catch the fish before it falls to the water. Although they may also fish for themselves by scooping fish from only inches below the water's surface, a large portion of their diet comes from being pirates of the sea.

Frigatebird at Rest Puffed flying Frigatebird Frigatebird in Flight


Even though seabirds spend most of their lives in the open ocean, they must come to shore to nest and raise their young. Therefore, it is critical that these nesting sites be preserved. In some cases, humans have accidentally introduced the main predators of these birds to the same areas they depend on for nesting. This has caused many seabird species to be seriously harmed.

Long-line fishing is a technique used by fishermen around the world to set out miles of individual hooks with bait, in order to catch a lot of fish in a small amount of time. The problem is that seabirds sometimes try to eat the bait on these hooks. If they also eat the hook, they may become seriously injured or even killed.

Pollution that goes into rivers and oceans impacts the fish that live in these waters. When birds eat these polluted fish, they often become sick as a result.


Fast Facts

Did You Know?

  • Programs aroundthe world, funded by governments and private organizations, remove invasive animals like rats, cats, and dogs, from nesting areas.Learn More »
  • Simplesteps can be taken to make long-line fishing safer. For example, putting out bait at night when birds don’t hunt or setting the bait lower in the water so birds don’t see it as easily, could save many birds from injury or death from long-line fishing.Learn More »
  • Limiting pollution into waterways like rivers and oceans starts by reducing, reusing, and recycling. Factories and industries that pollute the water should be closed. With renewable energy like solar and wind power, we as a society are reducing pollution and helping save the seabirds.Learn More »
Compare & Contrast Frigatebirds Seabirds
How many species? 5 Over 450
Where do they occur Primarily in tropical regions (between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn) in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans All areas of the world
What do they eat? Fish and marine invertebrates like shrimp and frill Fish and marine invertebrates like shrimp and frill
Do they have predators? Rats, cats, and dogs Rats, cats, and dogs

BBC Worldwide, "Nesting Frigate Birds and Baby Turtles -- BBC Planet Earth"


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