Travel With Us

Enter your email address

This bird’s drumming on his body lures the ladies

The male frigatebird has a mighty wingspan and awesome stamina—but he really impresses mates by inflating a body part and playing drum solos on it.

Many a suitor puffs out his chest hoping to impress the ladies. But for hue, girth, and sheer musicality, none beats the blimplike bosom on Fregata magnificens, the magnificent frigatebird.

During a courtship display, each male seeks to outdo the others with one body part: a red pouch hanging from his throat. When he inflates this gular sac, it balloons into a heart-like shape as tall as he is. Then he clacks his beak, and it resonates in the sac like a drumbeat, a thrumming love call. “You hear it long before you see them,” says Jen Jones of the Galapagos Conservation Trust, who has witnessed displays on the islands.

A white-breasted, female frigatebird observes the courtship display of her male partner. The two are part of a colony on Isla Genovesa, or Tower Island, in Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands.

Females that have been gliding overhead land and eye their options. Males may turn up the heat even more with “disco moves, head shakes, or the occasional shimmy,” Jones says. One study says it’s the drumming that gets males the most mates, but the whole show is “absolutely amazing,” Jones says. “A feast for the senses.”

Habitat/Range: Fregata magnificens chiefly inhabits the Americas’ Pacific and Atlantic coasts and adjacent islands, from California and Georgia south to Ecuador and Uruguay.

Conservation Status: The International Union for Conservation of Nature ranks the bird “least concern,” but invasive species and habitat loss affect some populations.

Other Facts
Frigatebirds stay aloft for months at a time, riding thermal updrafts. They’ll swoop to the ocean’s surface to find food, Jones says, or steal it from other animals: “They’re pirates, basically.”

Ecologists who studied male birds’ courtship moves in Mexico concluded that the sound effects “significantly predict mating success.” Males that drum at lower frequencies—thanks to larger gular sacs—and in quicker, more constant cadences appealed more to females, which may perceive them as more experienced or vigorous, the study says.

Related Articles

Discuss this article


Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
We use our own and third-party cookies to improve our services, personalise your advertising and remember your preferences. If you continue browsing, or click on the accept button on this banner, we understand that you accept the use of cookies on our website. For more information visit our Cookies Policy AcceptClose cookie policy overlay