Whenever a Great Frigatebird soars overhead, I'm in awe. The sheer size and shape of their wings is both majestic and a bit intimidating. Though it's a slender bird of just a few pounds, they can measure up to seven feet from wingtip to wingtip, and have the largest wing area to body weight ratio of any bird. The deeply forked tail is another easy identifier, as is the hooked bill and dark body (females have a white breast and greyish throat). Since they ride warm updrafts, you'll most likely see them soaring over the shoreline, showing off their consummate flying skills. I have seen them cruising along Bellows beach on the windward side. The 'Iwa may also help the crew of the Hokule'a find land. The PVS website says: "The 'iwa (man-of-war bird), like the noio (noddy tern) and the manu-o-ku (white tern), were helpful in locating islands, as they fly out to fish in the morning and return to their islands in the evening. However, the ‘iwa is not as reliable as the noio and manu-o-ku, as it is capable of soaring for longer than a day at sea." 'Iwa roost on the offshore islets of the Main Hawaiian Islands, and breed throughout the North West Hawaii Islands.
Breeding begins with the male puffing up his bright red, inflatable gular (throat) sac, and attempting to attract the female by waggling his head back and forth. When the female shows interest, they'll construct a platform nest in low shrubs and trees, such as the naupaka and tree heliotrope, where just one egg is laid. While they are said to be messy housekeepers, they certainly are attentive and caring parents: the young can be tended to and fed for up to a year and a half after fledging! While frigatebirds have a bad rap for chasing other birds until they regurgitate their food (the Hawaiian name, 'iwa, means "thief"), the vast majority of their meals are legitimately earned.
They feed mostly on flying fish and squid, catching them either in flight or by dipping their bill in the surface water as they glide.
Because their legs are short and their feet lack webbing, they don't land on the water, and with their large wings, they may not be able to lift off once they land. Off the wing, they perch in trees for the same reason. 'Iwa can live long lives: one bird banded on Tern island in French Frigate Shoals was found to be forty-four years old. Happy soaring!
welcomes you to visit with the all the wonderful flora and fauna that we share this lovely aina with.