When we arrived in the Caribbean after the crossing, we landed in Antigua, which is actually the country or ‘state’ of ‘Antigua and Barbuda.’ All sailing vessels upon landing must go to customs and immigration to check in and upon leaving, check out again. When we left the island of Antigua to come up here to St. Martin, we opted to check out of that country via the island of Barbuda. This entailed sailing roughly 30 miles (48 km) north, anchoring in Low Bay off of a pristine, 11 mile, largely deserted beach, landing our dinghy there, tracking down a local water taxi man to take us across the lagoon to Codrington, the capital of Barbuda (population 1,000) and seeking out the dignified, albeit somewhat humble customs and immigration facilities there.
Check-out completed, we took advantage of the services of said water taxi to take us to see the renowned Frigate Bird Sanctuary in the north of the lagoon. We were in luck as it was nesting season and the sanctuary was hopping with frenzied activity. The birds were in various stages of breeding and courtship. The males were in full-blown regalia sporting their inflated red ‘gular pouches’ on the throat while the females swooped around them, carefully and determinedly making their choice while friends and neighbors and even children looked on. It was madness that we have only seen equalled in Trinidad during carnival!
As the lagoon is well protected, they had absolutely no fear of us so we had a front row seat to this incredible spectacle. My photos could not do it justice, but they will give you an idea of the various players in the breeding process. Before I end this post let me give you a few fun facts about these magnificent and somewhat unusual birds:
- Firgatebirds are also known as Pirate birds as they get some of their food by stealing from other seabirds even steal their chicks!
- They cannot swim, walk well or even take off from a flat surface or water, so they snatch prey from the ocean surface or beach while flying.
- They have the largest wingspan (up to 2.3 meters) to body weight ratio of any bird and can stay aloft for more than a week, landing only to roost or breed on trees or cliffs.
- They only take one mate in a season, but they nest in colonies.
- A single egg is laid each breeding season.
- The duration of parental care in frigatebirds is the longest of any bird
- Both parents take turns feeding for the first three months but then only the mother feeds the young for another eight months.
- It takes so long to rear a chick that frigatebirds cannot breed every year.
- It is typical to see juveniles as big as their parents waiting to be fed. When they sit waiting for endless hours in the hot sun, they assume an energy-efficient posture in which their head hangs down, and they sit so still that they seem dead. But when the parent returns, they will wake up, bob their head, and scream until the parent opens its mouth. The hungry juvenile plunges its head down the parent's throat and feeds at last.¹ I know some human kids who behave like that with their parents!