AWESOME HURRICANES & MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS
‘Awesome’ in its original (and biblical) sense of ‘inspiring awe and fear’, I mean – as with hurricanes; not as in ‘awesome cupcakes’. And Magnificent because that’s what frigatebirds effortlessly are.
This post is about the resilience of birds after extreme weather events, and their powers of recovery. As we all recall, last autumn large areas of the Caribbean region were devastated by those twin furies, Irma and Maria. Islands that received direct hits from these destructive hurricanes were trashed with unimaginable ferocity, at a massive human, infrastructure and ecological cost from which slow recovery is still in progress. Barbuda was one of those islands.
This is the heartening story of a colony of frigatebirds on Barbuda, where in the aftermath of the storms BirdsCaribbean members offered to survey the effects of the storms in terms of the natural history of the region. These included Frantz Delcroix and Eric Delcroix, who spent time on Barbuda in mid-October, 6 weeks after Hurricane Irma.
Their assignment was to visit Codrington Lagoon, Barbuda, to carry out a survey of the Magnificent Frigatebirds to check how – or if – the sanctuary and its population was recovering six weeks after Hurricane Irma hit. The boat trip to the colony must have been tense; there might have been little or no colony left to survey.
As they neared the location, and to their delight, they saw hundreds of frigatebirds in flight, with bushes adorned with the bright red gular pouches the males. In all they estimated 1,710 frigatebirds were in the colony. In a count of seven bushes alone, 279 birds (83 females and 196 males) were counted. Amazingly, 90% of the females were on nests and some of the birds were observed courting and mating, with males even carrying nest materials.
Before the hurricane, the 4,000–5,000-strong frigatebird colony had chicks in the nest. Surveys just after the hurricane found no surviving chicks and only around 300 birds. Now, one and a half months later, there were more than 1,700 frigatebirds starting a new breeding period with almost all of the females nesting!
The team were of course deeply affected by the damage and desolation on Barbuda, and the suffering of its people. In a purely environmental context, the frigatebirds were a small sign of hope. As was noted at the time, “witnessing the power of nature—its ability to inflict such damage, but also how it can quickly rebound—was an extraordinary experience. So, we did not leave without hope. Nature is resilient!“
BirdsCaribbean is an excellent and wide-ranging organisation that deserves support. You can ‘like’ it or follow it on FB HERE, sign up for regular emails, volunteer to get involved or donate on the website HERE, and maybe even consider a contribution to its ongoing hurricane recovery efforts HERE.
Special thanks to Frantz Delcroix and Eric Delcroix for permission to use some of their wonderful photos taken during the survey; and to use parts of their review (with some adjustment to apply to the specifics of this post). Many thanks also to Lisa Sorenson, Executive Director of BirdsCaribbean, for her kind support whenever the occasion has arisen!