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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Males begin their mating displays in late December (4), inflating their scarlet throat pouches during courtship (2). Egg laying occurs between March and May and nests are positioned high in tall forest trees (6). A single egg is laid and both parents take it in turns during the 50 to 54 day incubation period; fledglings can remain dependant on their parents for six to seven months after their first flight (4). These birds feed mainly on flying fish and cephalopods (such as squid), which are scooped from the surface of the water (6). A proportion of their food is obtained by harassing other seabirds such as red-footed boobies (Sula sula), until they are forced to regurgitate their meal (4).
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Description

The Christmas frigatebird is a very large, mostly black seabird with a glossy green sheen to feathers of the head and back (4). Females are larger than males (5); they have a white breast and belly, a narrow white collar around the lower neck and a whitish bar across the upperwing (4). Males are dark all over apart from a white patch on the lower abdomen. They have a red gular pouch, which becomes more vibrant in the breeding season and is inflated during mating displays (4). Juveniles have more mottled feathers on their upper-parts (2), a pale fawn head, white throat and a russet necklace (4). They take around four years to gain adult plumage (4).
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Distribution

Christmas Island frigatebirds gets their name from the fact that they breed exclusively on Christmas Island, an island off the northwestern coast of Australia in the Indian Ocean. When not breeding, Christmas Island frigatebird range widely throughout Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, and are occasionally spotted near Sumatra, Java, Bali, Borneo, the Andaman Islands, and the Keeling Islands.

Biogeographic Regions: oriental (Native ); australian (Native ); indian ocean (Native )

  • Department of the Environment and Heritage. National Recovery Plan for the Cristmas Island Figatebird; Fregata andrewsi. ISBN: 0 642 5508 5. Canberra, AU: Commonwealth of Australia. 2004.
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Range Description

This species is endemic as a breeding species to Christmas Island (to Australia). In 2003 it was estimated that there were 1,171 (± 58) breeding pairs. The number of nests was probably between 3% and 16% lower in 2003 than 1985 (one generation; 1985 estimates ranging from 1,320-1,620 pairs [Stokes 1988]), but this may not be an accurate indication of population trends. Due to biennial breeding, the total breeding population is between one and two times the number of pairs nesting per annum (i.e. 1,200-2,400 pairs). An historical review of the extent and decline of the four sub-colonies suggests that the pre-settlement population was about 6,300 breeding pairs per annum, but declined to 4,500 by 1910, 3,500 by 1945, 2,500 by 1967, and 1,500 by 1978. If this reconstruction is correct, then the population declined by about 66% over three generations between 1945 and 2003 (James 2003). In 2003 there were four sub-colonies (since reduced to three) covering an area of c.49 ha (Stokes 1988, James 2003). The Flying Fish Cove sub-colony probably contained c.50 ha of habitat in 1887; it underwent an almost complete decline in the early 1900s, and in 2003 it contained only c.10 ha of habitat and two nests. The Dryers sub-colony underwent an almost complete decline by the 1970s, and in 2003 contained c.62 ha of habitat and 20 nests. The Golf Course sub-colony lost c.13 ha (25%) in the 1940s, and in 2003 it contained c.25 ha of habitat and an estimated 828 (± 42) nests. The Cemetery sub-colony contained 46 ha of habitat and an estimated 321 (± 15) nests in 2003 (James 2003). Surveys in 2004 showed a significant increase in number of nests, with 767 nests in 244 nest trees at the largest colony (James 2004b) but surveys in 2005 showed a return to 2003 levels, suggesting that inter-annual variation rather than population growth explains the increase in numbers in 2004. Breeding and non-breeding birds have been recorded foraging at low densities in the Indo-Malay Archipelago (James 2004) over the Sunda Shelf to the South China Sea, the Andaman Sea, the Sulu Sea, off south-west Sulawesi, and in the Gulf of Thailand (Catterral 1997, Vromant and Chau 2007, D. James in litt. 2007, Tebb et al. 2008), commuting directly over Java in the process (James 2006). When not breeding the species ranges widely across the seas of South-East Asia to Indochina and south to northern Australia (Stokes 1988), but its status in the Indian Ocean to the west is less well known.

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Range

Christmas I.; ranges to s China Sea and Australia.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Historic Range:
East Indian Ocean

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Range

Found in the northeast Indian Ocean, these birds are only known to breed on Christmas Island (4). The distribution of birds at sea is not well documented but they may wander widely and are known from the coasts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand (6) and northern Australia (4).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Christmas Island frigatebirds are large black sea birds with deeply forked tails and long hooked bills. Both sexes share a distinct white belly patch and pale bars on the upperwing. Females are larger than their male counterparts, with weights of 1550 g and 1400 g respectively. Males have a red gular pouch and the bill is dark grey. Females have a black throat and a pink bill. Females have a white collar and the belly patch extends onto the breast as well as the the axillaries as a spur. Juveniles have a distinct blue bill as well as a pale yellow head, the body is mostly brown with a blackish tail.

Range mass: 1550 (high) g.

Range length: 89 to 100 cm.

Range wingspan: 206 to 230 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: female larger; sexes colored or patterned differently

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Ecology

Habitat

Christmas Island frigatebirds can be found in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Indian Ocean. Most of their time is spent at sea, the minimal time that is spent on land is for roosting and breeding. This species will roost communally and alongside other frigatebird species as well. Roosting and breeding sites are preferably high, as Christmas Island frigatebirds experience great difficulty taking of from perches less than 3 meters in height. They breed exclusively in the low dry forest of Christmas Island. This species prefers warmer, low salinity waters.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial ; saltwater or marine

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

Aquatic Biomes: pelagic ; coastal

  • 2001. Christmas Island Frigatebird; Fregata andrewsi. Pp. 104-110 in N Collar, A Andreev, S Chan, M Crosby, S Subramanya, J Tobias, eds. Threatened Birds of Asia: The Birdlife International Red Data Book. Cambridge, U.K.: Birdlife International. Accessed March 09, 2008 at birdbase.hokkaido-ies.go.jp/rdb/rdb_en/fregandr.pdf.
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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It nests in tall forest trees. Terminalia catappa and Celtis timorensis trees hold 65.5% of all nests (Hill and Dunn 2005).It is only capable of raising a maximum of one fledgling every two years. It forages for flying fish, squid and other marine creatures, and is largely dependent on subsurface predators to drive prey to the surface. Most food is captured by plucking it from the sea surface while on the wing, but it is also an accomplished aerial kleptoparasite. Evidence suggests that breeding birds frequently forage hundreds or even thousands of kilometres from the colony. Satellite tracking showed that one female with a large chick undertook a non-stop 26-day 4,000 km return flight from Christmas Island via Sumatra and Borneo (James 2006). Replacement rate of pairs is thought to be extremely slow (15-25 years) rendering the population slow to recover following declines (Hill and Dunn 2005).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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breeding on Christmas isl.
  • UNESCO-IOC Register of Marine Organisms
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Although these birds do not settle on the water, they inhabit the open ocean, returning to land only to roost and breed. Both nesting and roosting occur on a small area of Christmas Island, in tall forest close to the shore (4). Nesting sites are preferentially in the lee of the prevailing southeast winds (4).
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Trophic Strategy

Christmas Island frigatebirds are strictly surface feeders. They are largely piscivorious, feeding on flying fish, jellyfish, squid, large plankton, and fishery by-catch and offal. Being strictly surface skimmers, they generally only immerse their bill but sometimes they do immerse their entire head. They have been known to take eggs from other nests and prey on the young of other frigatebirds. They are sometimes called 'pirate birds' in reference to their habit of harassing other seabirds into releasing or regurgitating their prey, which they then take.

Animal Foods: birds; fish; eggs; mollusks; aquatic crustaceans; cnidarians; zooplankton

Primary Diet: carnivore (Piscivore , Molluscivore , Eats other marine invertebrates)

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Associations

Christmas Island frigatebirds are important predators of marine vertebrates and invertebrates where they occur.

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Other Christmas Island frigatebirds may prey on eggs and nestlings. Otherwise, there are few natural predators of frigatebirds. Nesting colonies are in isolated and inaccessible areas and are protected by the nesting birds.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Christmas Island frigatebirds use visual cues for mating, as when the males inflate their red gular pouches to attract females. They also use a variety of vocalizations to communicate in breeding colonies. Males and females distinctive vocalizations to communicate with each other and with their offspring.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

The mortality rate among Adult Christmas Island frigatebirds is 4% yearly, giving them an average lifespan of 25.6 years, it is speculated that they may live to reach ages of 40 to 45 years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
45 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
25.6 years.

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Reproduction

Generally Christmas Island frigatebirds do not mate with partners from previous years; each season new mates are chosen as well as new nesting sites. In late December males select display sites, where they inflate their bright red gular pouch to attract females. Pairs are usually formed by the end February. The nest is then built at the display site. Christmas Island frigatebirds are colonial nesters and there are only 3 known colonies on the island, Golf Course, Dyers, and Cemetery. Christmas Island frigatebirds seem to be more selective in their nest sites than the other members of the genus Fregata. They prefer to nest in sites sheltered from high winds to ensure safe landings. Nest sites of Christmas Island frigatebirds are situated under the top branches of a chosen tree. This species is highly selective in the choice of tree species used for nesting, studies of the golf course colony have shown that Terminalia catappa and Celtis timorensis are the preferred species of nesting tree comprising 65.5% of the trees chosen. Nesting also occurs in some species of Ficus, but is less common. It is also noted that all of these tree species occur throughout the island, yet breeding is restricted to the 3 main colonies.

Mating System: monogamous

It takes over 40 days for a pair to incubate a single egg. The young generally hatch anywhere from mid-April to late-June. The offspring are very slow growing but seem to grow quicker than the young of other frigatebird species. It takes fifteen months to raise one chick, so breeding occurs only every 2 years, though it is not known whether both parents are required for the entire time. Males may attempt to mate every year.

Breeding interval: Pairs breed every other year, it is not yet confirmed whether or not males attempt to breed every season.

Breeding season: The breeding season is estimated to last 9 to 10 months.

Average eggs per season: 1.

Average time to hatching: 40 days.

Average time to independence: 15 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 5 to 7 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 5 to 7 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Fifteen months are needed for a pair to raise one young to independence. Both parents help in incubating the egg and feeding of the chick when hatched. Generally the older juveniles are fed by the female parent more frequenty than the male, although there have been observations of males feeding free-flying offspring at least 8 months old. About 15 to 20% the eggs that are laid fledge young. Some groups are able to raise 60% of nestlings successfully to fledging. It is estimated that a breeding pair takes twenty to twenty five years of breeding attempts, or more, to replace themselves.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

  • 2001. Christmas Island Frigatebird; Fregata andrewsi. Pp. 104-110 in N Collar, A Andreev, S Chan, M Crosby, S Subramanya, J Tobias, eds. Threatened Birds of Asia: The Birdlife International Red Data Book. Cambridge, U.K.: Birdlife International. Accessed March 09, 2008 at birdbase.hokkaido-ies.go.jp/rdb/rdb_en/fregandr.pdf.
  • Department of the Environment and Heritage. National Recovery Plan for the Cristmas Island Figatebird; Fregata andrewsi. ISBN: 0 642 5508 5. Canberra, AU: Commonwealth of Australia. 2004.
  • Department of the Environment and Heritage. The Action Plan for Austrlian Birds 2000. ISBN: 0 642 54683 5. Canberra, AU: Environment Australia. 2000. Accessed March 09, 2008 at http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/action/birds2000/pubs/ci-frigatebird.pdf.
  • Freedman, B. 2003. Figatebirds. Pp. 197-198 in M Hutchins, J Jackson, D Olendorf, W Bock, eds. Grizmek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. Vol 8, Birds 1, Second Edition. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.
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Conservation

Conservation Status

As of 1985 the breeding population of Christmas Island frigatebirds was censused at 1,620 pairs and in 2003 breeding pair numbers were estimated to be 1,171 (+/- 58). Other estimations of 4,500 for the entire population have been made, although difficulty in distinguishing immature Fregata andrewsi from other species of Fregata may make non-breeding population estimates inaccurate. Along with the population estimates done in 1985, estimations of nest numbers were also done, with 100 nests at the Dryers colony, 370 at the Cemetery colony and 850 at the Golf Course colony. Numbers have since decreased at Dryers to 30 nests. As of 1987 there were 4 known colonies, the 3 previously mentioned and the fourth being the Flying Fish Cove colony but in 2003 only 2 nests were present.

One of the main threats to the success of Christmas Island frigatebirds is the yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes). These ants form super-colonies that can stress trees to such an extent that they die, making the preferred nesting sites of Christmas Island frigatebirds unavailable. It is speculated that higher incidences of death from groundings occurs when the birds are grounded in these super-colonies. Due to its limited breeding range and preferred nesting sites, population numbers of Christmas Island frigatebirds are very sensitive to any changes in tree numbers.

Christmas Island frigatebirds are considered critically endangered by the IUCN and are on the CITES Appendix I.

US Migratory Bird Act: no special status

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: appendix i

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: critically endangered

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
CR
Critically Endangered

Red List Criteria
B2ab(ii,iii,v)

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Garnett, S., Green, P., Hennicke, J., James, D., Low, T. & O'Dowd, D.

Justification
This species has a small population which breeds within a tiny Area of Occupancy on just one island, and which is continuing to decline. For these reasons it is listed as Critically Endangered.


History
  • 2012
    Critically Endangered
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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 06/14/1976
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10) 
Where Listed: Entire


Population detail:

Population location: Entire
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Fregata andrewsi , see its USFWS Species Profile

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Status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).
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Population

Population
The most recent population census indicates a population of 2,400-4,800 mature individuals (D. James in litt. 2003), roughly equivalent to 3,600-7,200 individuals in total.

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
About a quarter of the breeding area was cleared before 1946 for phosphate mining, and the Flying Fish Cove colony was largely deserted because of continuing dust fallout from phosphate dryers. Future habitat loss is possible through clearance for mining. A new application to mine a 250 ha area of rainforest (P. Green in litt. 2007) is currently under review. About two thirds of the nests are now located in a single colony, making the species vulnerable to cyclones. Poaching ceased in the 1980s. A possible threat is the introduced yellow crazy ant Anoplolepis gracilipes which formed super-colonies during the 1990s and spread rapidly to cover about 25% of the island or about 3,400 ha. Control measures have so far been unable to eradicate this non-native species, but to date frigatebirds have not apparently been adversely affected by them. However, ant super-colonies alter island ecology by killing the dominant life-form, the red crab Gecaroidea natalis, and by farming scale insects which damage the trees. This may alter the breeding habitat of the species in the medium- to long-term (Hennicke in litt. 2010). Less specific threats include over-fishing and marine pollution, plus clearance of vegetation and hunting on non-breeding roost islands (P. Green and D. O'Dowd in litt. 2003, S. Garnett in litt. 2003, James 2003, Jensen and Tan 2010). Approximately 10% of the population nests outside the national park and does not have any formal protection (Hill and Dunn 2005). Clearance of vegetation within 300 m of nesting colonies should be avoided (Hill and Dunn 2005). Frigatebirds are highly susceptible to entanglement in fishing gear, so intense fishing pressure in the South-East Asian waters and severe marine pollution there represent significant threats to the species (James 2006). Research is underway to establish whether a potentially new blood parasite poses a threat to the species (Hennicke in litt. 2010).

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Habitat destruction and human predation have been the major causes of population decline in the past (6); dust pollution from phosphate mine driers caused one major nesting site to be abandoned (4). Dust suppression equipment has since been installed and human predation has ceased since this species has been protected (4). Birds that have been displaced in the past may now be using sub-optimal habitat, which could pose a threat to their survival (4). The Christmas frigatebird is confined to a few breeding colonies on a single island and this, together with their low reproductive rate (4), makes the population alarmingly vulnerable to any chance event.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. Listed as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Hill and Dunn 2005). The Christmas Island National Park was established in 1980, and has since been extended to include two of the three current breeding colonies (90% of the population) (P. Green and D. O'Dowd in litt. 2003). A recovery plan has been completed (Hill and Dunn 2005) and a study using satellite telemetry to study movements has been underway since 2005 (J. Hennicke in litt. 2008, 2010). A control programme for A. gracilipes was initiated after 2000, including aerial baiting in 2002, and effectively eliminated the ant from 2,800 ha of forest (95% of its former extent) (P. Green and D. O'Dowd in litt. 2003, Olsen 2005). However, the ant population continued to increase, covering upwards of 500 ha by 2006. Despite continued control efforts, ants remained persistent in 2009, and perpetual baiting may be the only means of controlling them (Olsen 2005). Efforts are underway to find alternative bait that is not toxic to invertebrates on the island (Olsen 2005). Plans have been established to control the scale bugs that the ants tend for their sugar secretions in order to reduce this food supply, but there remains no evidence that they are adversely affecting frigatebird colonies (Hennicke in litt. 2010). A census of Christmas Island was planned for April 2010 (Hennicke in litt. 2010).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Implement the species recovery plan. Continue to control the abundance and spread of A. gracilipes. Develop and implement appropriate techniques to monitor the total/breeding population size and population structure (Hill and Dunn 2005). Analyse existing data on breeding biology and success. Lobby to prevent mining close to colonies. Negotiate protection of all known and potential nesting habitat and appropriate buffers. If necessary, implement appropriate management in feeding habitat in South-East Asia to avoid bycatch etc. Maintain a quarantine barrier between Christmas Island and other lands to minimise the risks of new avian diseases establishing (Hill and Dunn 2005).

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Conservation

Christmas Island National Park was established in 1989 and contains two of the three current breeding populations (5). Christmas frigatebirds are also protected outside of the park and by Migratory Bird Agreements between Australia and other countries (4). This species remains highly vulnerable however, and the close monitoring of breeding success and population size remains a high priority (4).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

There are no known adverse effects of Christmas Island frigatebirds on humans.

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The many endemic species of birds found on Christmas Island draws eco-tourist groups of bird watchers. As of 2004 there is a rainforest rehabilitation program and a proposed frigatebird monitoring program that has the potential to provide more employment opportunities on the island.

Positive Impacts: ecotourism ; research and education

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Wikipedia

Christmas frigatebird

The Christmas frigatebird or Christmas Island frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi) is a seabird of the frigatebird family Fregatidae which is endemic to Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

The Christmas frigatebird is a large lightly built seabird with brownish-black plumage, long narrow wings and a deeply forked tail. It has a wingspan of around 2.15 m (7.1 ft). The male has an egg shaped white patch on its belly and a striking red gular sac which it inflates to attract a mate. The female is slightly larger than the male and has a white breast and belly. They feed on fish taken in flight from the ocean's surface (mostly flying fish), and sometimes indulge in kleptoparasitism, harassing other birds to force them to regurgitate their food.

Taxonomy[edit]

The Christmas frigatebird was once considered to belong to the species Fregata aquila but in 1914 the Australian ornithologist Gregory Mathews proposed that the Christmas frigatebird should be considered as a separate species with the binomial name Fregata andrewsi in honour of the English paleontogist Charles Andrews.[2] Of the four other species within the Fregata genus, genetic analysis has shown that the Christmas frigatebird is most closely related to the great frigatebird.[3]

Description[edit]

The Christmas frigatebird measures 89–100 cm (35–39 in) in length, has a wingspan of 205–230 cm (81–91 in) and weighs around 1,550 g (3.42 lb).[4] The adult male of this species is easily identified, since it is all black except for a white belly patch. Other plumages resemble those of the smaller lesser frigatebird, but have whiter bellies and longer white underwing spurs.

Status[edit]

The Christmas frigate is endemic to Christmas Island and breeds in only four main nesting colonies. In 2003 there were 1,200 breeding pairs but as frigatebirds normally breed every other year, the total adult population was estimated to be between 3,600-7,200 individuals.[5] The species has a small population and breeds on just one island. It is therefore listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as "Critically Endangered".[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2013). "Fregata andrewsi". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Mathews, GM (1914). "On the species and subspecies of the genus Fregata". Australian Avian Record 2 (6): 120 (117–121). 
  3. ^ Kennedy, Martyn; Spencer, Hamish G (2004). "Phylogenies of the frigatebirds (Fregatidae) and tropicbirds (Phaethonidae), two divergent groups of the traditional order Pelecaniformes, inferred from mitochondrial DNA sequences". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 31 (1): 31–38. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2003.07.007. 
  4. ^ Orta, J; Garcia, EFJ; Kirwan, GM; Boesman, P. "Christmas Frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi)". In del Hoyo, J; Elliott, A; Sargatal, J; Christie, DA; de Juana, E. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 30 November 2014. (subscription required)
  5. ^ James, David J; McAllan, Ian AW (2014). "The birds of Christmas Island, Indian Ocean: A review". Australian Field Ornithology 31 (Supplement). 

Further reading[edit]

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