There are three types phaetons - birds resembling tropical latitudes terns. For a long time they were attributed to the Pelican-like order, where all birds with a membrane on 4 fingers were placed, now the phaetons were allocated to an independent detachment Phaethontidae ... Who, in fact, they are the closest relatives is now unclear, perhaps albatrosses and skuas. Phaetons are a relict group.
The length of the phaetons is 76-102 cm (together with the long tail feathers), the wingspan is 94-112 cm, all three species are very similar in appearance, differing in markings on the head, back and wings. As mentioned, the swimming membrane connects all 4 toes. The legs are small and carried so far back that the phaetons cannot walk, they move on the ground by crawling, helping themselves with the jerks of their wings.
Red-billed phaeton Phaethon aethereus, tropical waters of the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Red-tailed phaeton Phaethon rubricauda, Indian and Pacific Oceans.
White-tailed phaeton Phaethon lepturus, everywhere except the West Pacific.
Phaetons hunt like gannets: they examine the surface of the water in flight and, in a dive, snatch prey from the upper layer (up to 4 meters). Since just acceleration during the fall is not enough for the bird to plunge to a considerable depth, phaetons help themselves under water with their wings and paws. Phaetons feed mainly on flying fish, sometimes squid and other types of fish.Outside the breeding season, frigates hunt singly, rarely in pairs, far in the open ocean.
Nests are established on islets in colonies. To attract a mate, the birds stage performances on the fly. Whirling, they waggle their tails, showing their long feathers to potential partners.
If the female likes the male, the pair goes to the nesting site previously occupied by the male.
Only one egg is laid in a crevice or shallow burrow. Fierce battles are being fought over the nesting sites, as Phaetons are scrupulous in choosing sites, preferring places with bushes and shelters.
Both parents incubate, but the female is more common in time. Food is brought to the chick very rarely, not more often than once a day, so it grows slowly and leaves the nest only at the age of 12-13 weeks. A fat chick will need a couple of days of wave sailing before it loses enough weight to stand on its wing.
The distinctive long tail feathers are for decoration only. Different lengths of feathers in one bird are associated with replacing older ones with younger ones (it takes 6 months for a feather to reach full length, and feathers are shed at different times). In males, the decoration is longer, but not much.
One of the long feathers is discarded during the incubation of the eggs.
Scientists have found that feathers have nothing to do with the state of the bird (its health, age, good genes), as is the case with other sexual characteristics (for example, the color of the beak in finches). However, in red-tailed phaetons, the brightness of the feathers can serve as an indicator of well-being.The birds themselves do not produce carotenoids; the pigment must be obtained from food. Also, the activity of some parasites affects the presence of pigment in feathers, reducing the color saturation, which can partly serve as an indicator of health.
Interestingly, in the red-tailed phaeton, the chicks are fed 50% of the golden mackerel, while in the diet of adult birds this fish takes up much less space.
The white-tailed phaeton is the smallest of the three types of phaetons. He spends most of his time on the high seas of tropical oceans.
Half of the 80-centimeter length of the white-tailed phaeton falls on the tail. Also distinguished are its wings 89-96 cm long with black tops and stripes and a streamlined torso, which gives it a graceful appearance. The next signs are black stripes on the eyes and a yellow beak. The call sounds like a high "kee-kee-krrrt-krrt-krrt".
At 4 years old, the bird first arrives on the coast of tropical islands for nesting. Mating, which can take place throughout the year, begins with synchronized currenting flights. The bird lays a single egg on bare ground or in a depression between the roots of a tree or rocks. Both parent birds hatch the egg for about 40 days.
There are 5 subspecies
- P. l. ascensionis - Ascension Island
- P. l. dorotheae - tropical Pacific Ocean
- P. l. fulvus - Christmas Island
- P. l. lepturus - Indian Ocean
- P. l. catesbyi - Bermuda and West Indies