Frigatebirds are a family of seabirds called Fregatidae which are found across all tropical and subtropical oceans. The five extant species are classified in a single genus, Fregata. All have predominantly black plumage, long, deeply forked tails and long hooked bills. Females have white underbellies and males have a distinctive red gular pouch, which they inflate during the breeding season to attract females. Their wings are long and pointed and can span up to 2.3 metres (7.5 ft), the largest wing area to body weight ratio of any bird.
Able to soar for weeks on wind currents, frigatebirds spend most of the day in flight hunting for food, and roost on trees or cliffs at night. Their main prey are fish and squid, caught when chased to the water surface by large predators such as tuna. Frigatebirds are referred to as kleptoparasites as they occasionally rob other seabirds for food, and are known to snatch seabird chicks from the nest. Seasonally monogamous, frigatebirds nest colonially. A rough nest is constructed in low trees or on the ground on remote islands. A single egg is laid each breeding season. The duration of parental care is among the longest of any bird species; frigatebirds are only able to breed every other year.
The Fregatidae are a sister group to Suloidea which consists of cormorants, darters, gannets, and boobies. Three of the five extant species of frigatebirds are widespread (the magnificent, great and lesser frigatebirds), while two are endangered (the Christmas Island and Ascension Island frigatebirds) and restrict their breeding habitat to one small island each. The oldest fossils date to the early Eocene, around 50 million years ago. Classified in the genus Limnofregata, the three species had shorter, less-hooked bills and longer legs, and lived in a freshwater environment.
Frigatebirds are found over tropical oceans, and ride warm updrafts under cumulus clouds. Their range coincides with availability of food such as flying fish, and with the trade winds, which provide the windy conditions that facilitate their flying. They are rare vagrants to temperate regions and not found in polar latitudes. Adults are generally sedentary, remaining near the islands where they breed. However, male frigatebirds have been recorded dispersing great distances after departing a breeding colony—one male great frigatebird relocated from Europa Island in the Mozambique Channel to the Maldives 4,400 km (2,700 mi) away, and a male magnificent frigatebird flew 1,400 km (870 mi) from French Guiana to Trinidad. In 2015, a magnificent frigatebird was spotted as far north as Michigan. Great frigatebirds marked with wing tags on Tern Island in the French Frigate Shoals were found to regularly travel the 873 km (542 mi) to Johnston Atoll, although one was reported in Quezon City in the Philippines. Genetic testing seems to indicate that the species has fidelity to their site of hatching despite their high mobility. Young birds may disperse far and wide, with distances of up to 6,000 km (3,700 mi) recorded.