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Barbuda's Frigate Bird Sanctuary

More than 5,000 giant birds inhabit massive nesting grounds

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Birds in Frigate Bird Sanctuary, Barbuda

A female frigate bird flaps her wings between two red-throated males vying for her mating attention at Frigate Bird Sanctuary near Lighthouse Bay Resort on Baruda

Paul E. Kandarian
Lighthouse Bay Resort on Barbuda is for the birds – Frigate Birds, to be more precise. When you’re a guess of this boutique all-inclusive on the tiny island of Barbuda, do avail yourself of a side trip to the Frigate Bird Sanctuary, a gigantic nesting site for the majestic birds that is one of the most important of its kind in the world.

From Lighthouse Bay, you take a guided motorboat across the Codrington Lagoon, slowing to a crawl as you approach the sanctuary, the skies seemingly filled with this huge animals in a series of mangroves that form “Man of War Island,” the nesting place for the birds that carry that nickname for their tendency to stalk and harass other water birds in a war-like manor in order to steal their fish.

They won’t bother you here, as you glide by the sprawling nesting grounds to see some of the most beautiful birds Mother Nature has to offer, the males with wing spans of more than seven feet (said to be the largest proportion to its body size of any bird in the world) and throats of red feathers that they puff up to enormous size, which serves two purposes: Attracting females and defense posturing.

You actually get to coast pretty close to the nesting area, putting you within 10 feet or so, so photo opportunities are endless, snapping shots of male birds puffing their chests and flapping their wings or mothers flying through the skies in search of food. Telephoto lens will put you focally close enough to get some truly outstanding photos, but even smaller cameras do a laudable job of recording your adventure in the sanctuary.

The day we visited, it was uncharacteristically dismal in a largely pouring rain, but that didn’t deter our enthusiasm for these remarkable animals, males puffing up, females guarding their young, the young’s white-tufted heads poking up from their nests, some of which as large as nine-by-twelve feet. The lagoon is home to more than 5,000 frigate birds and more than 170 species of birds (five of them frigates), including pelicans, warblers, snipes, ibis, herons, king fishers and tropical mockingbirds. The sanctuary is one of the top tourist attractions for Barbuda and neighboring Antigua.

The longevity of these beautiful creatures is amazing as well: Frigates are the oldest known avian species, having been traced back some 50 million years.

As tempting as it is to stay on the Lighthouse Bay beach, break away for a part of the day to observe one of the most fantastic natural wonders on Barbuda.

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The cost of seeing the sanctuary is dependent on which local vendor out of Codrington you get, as prices vary. Lighthouse Bay Resort contracts with a local provider who gives guided tours for $100 per person. If you have your own boat on the lagoon, it is possible to visit on your own at no cost. The sanctuary is located on the northwest corner of the Codrington Lagoon and is open for visits from dawn to dusk daily. One helpful website is http://www.antigua-barbuda.org/agbar01.htm, which lists a number for tourist information as  +1 268 462 0480

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