Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Magnificent Frigatebird - Fregata magnificens
Sole representative of FREGATIDAE in NC
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General Comments The Magnificent Frigatebird is a common coastal bird of subtropical and tropical waters around the world and is always a delight to watch hanging into the wind, almost as if a weather vane. Despite it being numerous in much of southern Florida, it is a scarce visitor to the coastal waters of North Carolina, typically during the warmer months. Unfortunately, because they seldom perch except for resting/sleeping at night, it is difficult for birders to track down a bird that was seen earlier in the day or the day before, despite the large size and conspicuous nature of a frigatebird. Probably over 95% of the state's records involve birds within a mile of the coastline; it is quite scarce out of sight of land, and is casual inland (and almost always after a tropical storm or hurricane). Though some records are clearly related to the presence of hurricanes and tropical storms, the majority do not seem to have been storm-related, and birds likely arrived on strong southerly winds during periods of hot weather.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Nonbreeding visitor, almost always in flight over the immediate coast or over estuaries; seldom seen perched. Rare but regular (usually several reports annually) along the coast, more frequently seen along the southern coast. Mainly early May to Aug, less so through Sep; two records for early Dec, one for late Dec -- photographed in flight over Pea Island NWR on 31 Dec 2020; and a remarkable one for midwinter -- 30 Jan 1939 over Oregon Inlet (Pearson et al., 1942). The passage of Tropical Storm Ana around 9 May 2015 provided at least three records along the coast from 9-12 May 2015, and there were at least two additional records later in the month. Peak counts: 3, Nags Head, 24 Jun 1996; 3, 30 miles off Hatteras, 7 Jun 1993; 3, Sunset Beach (Brunswick), 6 Jun 2021. "Scores", Southport, Sep 1935; however, the report seems to be for an entire month, so a daily count was not made. One semi-inland report: one over the Pungo River near Wades Point (Beaufort) on 24 Oct 2020, a rather late date also. Two far inland reports: one in Dec 1998 was not accepted by the NC BRC, because of the combination of winter season and location; and one photographed over Wilson, 3 Sep 2016 (after Tropical Storm Hermine), not yet reviewed by the NC BRC.
Piedmont Accidental/casual to the eastern edge of the province, with just three records: one seen and later photographed at Falls Lake (Wake/Durham), 17-18 Jul 2004* [Chat 68:169 link]; one seen over the city of Durham, 2 Sep 2012* [Chat 77:19 link]; and one seen over west Raleigh, 3 Sep 2016 (after Tropical Storm Hermine). The last report has not yet been reviewed by the NC BRC.
Mountains Accidental, and remarkably for the winter season. An adult female was photographed over Ecusta Pond (Transylvania) on 8 Jan 2021* [Chat 85:66 link].
Finding Tips North Carolina averages about three reports of this species per year, most often in July or August on the southern coast. Birds are almost always alone, seen fairly high to very high overhead. Because the birds are aerial, it is extremely difficult to "stake out" such birds for viewing by other birders on later dates. One must always keep scanning the skies when along the coast during the warmer months, just in case you are lucky enough to encounter one.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-15], LeGrand[2022-02-08], LeGrand[2021-11-07]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.