Great Frigatebirds

Subject: Great Frigatebirds
From: David James <>
Date: Sun, 31 May 1998 20:42:49 +1000
Hi all, 

Coincidence or conspiracy? 

I have noticed a strange coincidence concerning the miss-identification of
Great frigatebirds at Lady Elliot Island  in the Southern Great Barrier
Reef, viz:. 

1) The bottom photo of a frigatebird on page 471 of Lindsey (1986) is
captioned as a Lesser Frigatebird Lady Elliot I., December 1983, T & P.
Gardner. The bird  can be identified as a "sub-adult" (about third year)
female Great Frigatebird by its rotund body, pale throat, black axillaries,
and curved (not angular) demarcation between belly and vent).

2) Three photos of one or more frigatebirds appear on page 20 of Coleman
(1997). They are all captioned as female Lesser Frigatebirds from Lady
Elliot Island, with no date and no photographer. It/they can be identified
as adult female Great Frigatebird by grey throats, grey orbital rings, lack
of axillary spurs and curved demarcation between belly and vent.

3) Photos 9 to 12 on page 139 of Enticott & Tippling (1997) are
respectively captioned as adult female, juvenile, male and male Lesser
Frigatebirds, all from Lady Elliot Island, March by Brian Chudleigh. They
can be identified as (you guessed it) Great Frigatebirds by grey throat
(female), lack of axillary spurs (male and female)  and curved demarcation
between belly and vent (female), rounded belly patch (juvenile). Photo 12
is a female, sexed by its grey bill and orbital ring.

So what is going on here??! Obviously people are identifying frigatebirds
as Lesser because that's what they expect. Obviously the field characters
aren't well enough known. But is there more to it? Frigatebirds don't breed
at Lady Elliot Island, but sometimes frigatebirds habitually hang around
locations where they don't breed. Is Lady Elliot a regular hang-out for
Great Frigatebirds? 

Coleman, N. (1997) Seabirds and Others of the Great Barrier Reef,
Australasia, South Pacific and Indian Ocean. Sea Australia Resource Centre,
  Enticott, J. & Tipling, D. 1997. Photographic Handbook of the Seabirds of
the World. New Holland, London. 
Lindsey, T. 1986. The Seabirds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.


David James
PO BOX 5225
Townsville Mail Centre 4810

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