Fregata andrewsi


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Fregata andrewsi
Species Authority: Mathews, 1914
Common Name(s):
English Christmas Frigatebird, Andrews' Frigatebird, Christmas Frigatebird
French Frégate d'Andrews

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered B2ab(ii,iii,v) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2013-11-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S.
Contributor(s): Garnett, S., Green, P., Hennicke, J., James, D., Low, T. & O'Dowd, D.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Benstead, P., Bird, J., Calvert, R., Crosby, M., Lascelles, B., McClellan, R., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Martin, R
This species has a small population which breeds within a tiny Area of Occupancy on just one island, and which is continuing to decline. For these reasons it is listed as Critically Endangered.

2012 Critically Endangered

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: This species is endemic as a breeding species to Christmas Island (to Australia). In 2003 it was estimated that there were 1,171 (± 58) breeding pairs. The number of nests was probably between 3% and 16% lower in 2003 than 1985 (one generation; 1985 estimates ranging from 1,320-1,620 pairs [Stokes 1988]), but this may not be an accurate indication of population trends. Due to biennial breeding, the total breeding population is between one and two times the number of pairs nesting per annum (i.e. 1,200-2,400 pairs). An historical review of the extent and decline of the four sub-colonies suggests that the pre-settlement population was about 6,300 breeding pairs per annum, but declined to 4,500 by 1910, 3,500 by 1945, 2,500 by 1967, and 1,500 by 1978. If this reconstruction is correct, then the population declined by about 66% over three generations between 1945 and 2003 (James 2003). In 2003 there were four sub-colonies (since reduced to three) covering an area of c.49 ha (Stokes 1988, James 2003). The Flying Fish Cove sub-colony probably contained c.50 ha of habitat in 1887; it underwent an almost complete decline in the early 1900s, and in 2003 it contained only c.10 ha of habitat and two nests. The Dryers sub-colony underwent an almost complete decline by the 1970s, and in 2003 contained c.62 ha of habitat and 20 nests. The Golf Course sub-colony lost c.13 ha (25%) in the 1940s, and in 2003 it contained c.25 ha of habitat and an estimated 828 (± 42) nests. The Cemetery sub-colony contained 46 ha of habitat and an estimated 321 (± 15) nests in 2003 (James 2003). Surveys in 2004 showed a significant increase in number of nests, with 767 nests in 244 nest trees at the largest colony (James 2004b) but surveys in 2005 showed a return to 2003 levels, suggesting that inter-annual variation rather than population growth explains the increase in numbers in 2004. Breeding and non-breeding birds have been recorded foraging at low densities in the Indo-Malay Archipelago (James 2004) over the Sunda Shelf to the South China Sea, the Andaman Sea, the Sulu Sea, off south-west Sulawesi, and in the Gulf of Thailand (Catterral 1997, Vromant and Chau 2007, D. James in litt. 2007, Tebb et al. 2008), commuting directly over Java in the process (James 2006). When not breeding the species ranges widely across the seas of South-East Asia to Indochina and south to northern Australia (Stokes 1988), but its status in the Indian Ocean to the west is less well known.

Brunei Darussalam; Cambodia; China; Christmas Island; Hong Kong; Indonesia; Malaysia; Philippines; Singapore; Sri Lanka; Thailand; Timor-Leste
Australia; Cocos (Keeling) Islands; India; Japan; Viet Nam
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The most recent population census indicates a population of 2,400-4,800 mature individuals (D. James in litt. 2003), roughly equivalent to 3,600-7,200 individuals in total.
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: It nests in tall forest trees. Terminalia catappa and Celtis timorensis trees hold 65.5% of all nests (Hill and Dunn 2005).It is only capable of raising a maximum of one fledgling every two years. It forages for flying fish, squid and other marine creatures, and is largely dependent on subsurface predators to drive prey to the surface. Most food is captured by plucking it from the sea surface while on the wing, but it is also an accomplished aerial kleptoparasite. Evidence suggests that breeding birds frequently forage hundreds or even thousands of kilometres from the colony. Satellite tracking showed that one female with a large chick undertook a non-stop 26-day 4,000 km return flight from Christmas Island via Sumatra and Borneo (James 2006). Replacement rate of pairs is thought to be extremely slow (15-25 years) rendering the population slow to recover following declines (Hill and Dunn 2005).

Systems: Terrestrial; Marine

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): About a quarter of the breeding area was cleared before 1946 for phosphate mining, and the Flying Fish Cove colony was largely deserted because of continuing dust fallout from phosphate dryers. Future habitat loss is possible through clearance for mining. A new application to mine a 250 ha area of rainforest (P. Green in litt. 2007) is currently under review. About two thirds of the nests are now located in a single colony, making the species vulnerable to cyclones. Poaching ceased in the 1980s. A possible threat is the introduced yellow crazy ant Anoplolepis gracilipes which formed super-colonies during the 1990s and spread rapidly to cover about 25% of the island or about 3,400 ha. Control measures have so far been unable to eradicate this non-native species, but to date frigatebirds have not apparently been adversely affected by them. However, ant super-colonies alter island ecology by killing the dominant life-form, the red crab Gecaroidea natalis, and by farming scale insects which damage the trees. This may alter the breeding habitat of the species in the medium- to long-term (Hennicke in litt. 2010). Less specific threats include over-fishing and marine pollution, plus clearance of vegetation and hunting on non-breeding roost islands (P. Green and D. O'Dowd in litt. 2003, S. Garnett in litt. 2003, James 2003, Jensen and Tan 2010). Approximately 10% of the population nests outside the national park and does not have any formal protection (Hill and Dunn 2005). Clearance of vegetation within 300 m of nesting colonies should be avoided (Hill and Dunn 2005). Frigatebirds are highly susceptible to entanglement in fishing gear, so intense fishing pressure in the South-East Asian waters and severe marine pollution there represent significant threats to the species (James 2006). Research is underway to establish whether a potentially new blood parasite poses a threat to the species (Hennicke in litt. 2010).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. Listed as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Hill and Dunn 2005). The Christmas Island National Park was established in 1980, and has since been extended to include two of the three current breeding colonies (90% of the population) (P. Green and D. O'Dowd in litt. 2003). A recovery plan has been completed (Hill and Dunn 2005) and a study using satellite telemetry to study movements has been underway since 2005 (J. Hennicke in litt. 2008, 2010). A control programme for A. gracilipes was initiated after 2000, including aerial baiting in 2002, and effectively eliminated the ant from 2,800 ha of forest (95% of its former extent) (P. Green and D. O'Dowd in litt. 2003, Olsen 2005). However, the ant population continued to increase, covering upwards of 500 ha by 2006. Despite continued control efforts, ants remained persistent in 2009, and perpetual baiting may be the only means of controlling them (Olsen 2005). Efforts are underway to find alternative bait that is not toxic to invertebrates on the island (Olsen 2005). Plans have been established to control the scale bugs that the ants tend for their sugar secretions in order to reduce this food supply, but there remains no evidence that they are adversely affecting frigatebird colonies (Hennicke in litt. 2010). A census of Christmas Island was planned for April 2010 (Hennicke in litt. 2010).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Implement the species recovery plan. Continue to control the abundance and spread of A. gracilipes. Develop and implement appropriate techniques to monitor the total/breeding population size and population structure (Hill and Dunn 2005). Analyse existing data on breeding biology and success. Lobby to prevent mining close to colonies. Negotiate protection of all known and potential nesting habitat and appropriate buffers. If necessary, implement appropriate management in feeding habitat in South-East Asia to avoid bycatch etc. Maintain a quarantine barrier between Christmas Island and other lands to minimise the risks of new avian diseases establishing (Hill and Dunn 2005).

Citation: BirdLife International 2013. Fregata andrewsi. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <>. Downloaded on 01 April 2015.
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