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Santa?s reindeer put to shame

Secrets of Christmas Island Frigatebird revealed

Cambridge, UK – Scientists have gained a unique insight into the life of one of the world’s rarest and most enigmatic seabirds, the Christmas Island Frigatebird.

During 2005, scientists from Parks Australia have been satellite tagging the frigatebirds at their Indian Ocean nesting site in an attempt to find out more about their movements. As part of this research ornithologists were amazed to discover that one particular bird, nicknamed ‘Lydia’ had undertaken a non-stop 26 day, 4,000 km flight which took her to Sumatra and Borneo and back to Christmas Island with an overland flight crossing Java’s mountains and volcanoes.

It is almost certain that Lydia didn’t land during the mammoth journey. Indeed it’s likely that she fed at sea and slept on the wing, probably at altitudes of hundreds or thousands of metres.During her travels, Lydia’s single chick, who is about 6 months old and just about to start flying, waited patiently on his nest for her to return. In the meantime he was probably fed fish by his father.

"With only around 1,200 pairs confined to this small island in the Indian Ocean, the Christmas Island Frigatebird is one of the world’s most endangered seabirds. This new satellite-tracking data will add enormously to our knowledge of the species," commented Ed Parnell of BirdLife International.

The seas of Southeast Asia are becoming a perilous place for seabirds. Fishing levels are very high and frigatebirds are extremely susceptible to entanglement in fishing gear. Marine pollution levels are also high.

"We suspect that the Christmas Island Frigatebird uses these seas because of the huge freshwater input from the tropical rivers of the region. However, deforestation is now silting these rivers, and gold mining activities are poisoning the waterways and fish with mercury. It is tragically ironic, that while Lydia nests on one the world’s most remote and pristine islands, she makes her living in some of the most degraded seas on the planet," said David James, Coordinator of Biodiversity Monitoring; for Christmas Island National Park. It is hoped the transmitter will continue to track Lydia’s travels around south-east Asia until May 2006, so scientists can find out where she spends her non-breeding season.

4th July 2014