The scene comes straight from a primordial past: Five thousand Magnificent Frigatebirds — one of the largest and strangest birds on earth — circle in the air all at the same time, high above an undeveloped island near the intersection of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.
Biologists are studying the birds on the five-mile-long island, Isla Contoy, located off the Yucatan coast about 30 miles north of Cancun. Though the Mexican government protects Isla Contoy, the project allows a limited number of visitors each day for three-hours, which is how we found ourselves feeling as though we had traveled back in time.
The Magnificent Frigatebird does look like an ancient creature. Guidebooks describe their long wings as pterodactyl-like. Their are tails are forked, practically demonic. The tropical birds are enormous, with a wing span of more than seven feet. But the Frigatebird’s mating routine is its most remarkable trait. Males inflate a gland sac in their throats so that it looks like a red, nearly heart-shaped balloon. Then the male waves its head around to show off its balloon while clattering its beak to in hopes of attracting a mate.