• Conservation urged to protect endangered Christmas Frigatebirds

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    The conservation group Haribon Foundation is urging greater conservation efforts to protect the critically endangered Christmas Frigatebird, one of three species of frigatebirds that can be found in the Philippines.
    Out of the five known frigatebird species, three of them are recorded in the Philippines: The Great Frigatebird, Lesser Frigatebird, and the Christmas Frigatebird, which is considered critically endangered.

    Frigatebirds are seabirds found in tropical and subtropical oceans. Most of them have dominant black plumage, far-reaching pointed wings, long deeply-forked tails, and an elongated hooked beak. They can be found along coasts, offshore, and in secluded islands effortlessly soaring or chasing other birds coercing them to drop the food they caught for themselves. They feed on flying fishes, squids and other marine creatures forced to surface on water by subsurface predators such as tunas, sharks and barracudas.

    Frigatebirds are known to breed only in Christmas Island in Australia, located south of Java, Indonesia. Using their long and mighty strong wings, they can fly for thousands of kilometers to scout for food, which is why they’ve been recorded in the Philippines as well. In fact, there is a satellite tracking record of a female Christmas Frigatebird’s journey back to the Christmas Island. The bird undertook a 26-day 4,000 km non-stop return flight to Christmas Island via Sumatra and Borneo.

    Frigatebirds also have an interesting breeding behavior. Male frigatebirds have one of the most elaborate breeding displays among the seabirds. They have a large, red gular pouch that they inflate while pointing their beaks upward to attract females. They also produce a vibrating and drumming sound with their wings and beaks during the process of mating display. Christmas Frigatebirds breed and produce only one offspring every two years and it will take several years for the offspring to be able to breed.

    Records show that Christmas Frigatebirds will only be sexually mature in its fifth to seventh year of life. This biological factor largely contributes to their slow reproduction rate. In 2012, their global population was estimated at only about 5,000 and is continually decreasing due to different threats outside their breeding area. They are hunted in Indonesia and Malaysia and sometimes also caught in fishing gears all over Southeast Asia. Despite this, conservation groups across Southeast Asia are closely monitoring the Christmas Frigatebirds and conservation actions are currently being developed to protect the species.

    David Quimpo/HARIBON FOUNDATION

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