Flighty friends flocking to Tukka

Tukka Restaurant in East End is using Man-o’-wars to reel in customers. 

Showing up just out of the blue about a year ago, these black magnificent birds perform aerobatic stunts all to the watchful eye of diners. 

Flying just above the surface of the sea, they swoop down and, not getting their wings wet, dip their huge long beaks into the water and snatch up the prey all in one fluid motion to the astonishment of diners. But these birds don’t have to search hard for food – a choice sample of chicken skin and fish trimmings is served up by chef Peter Ooi. 

At 5.30pm, the birds show, circling and waiting wait for Mr. Ooi to arrive. At the water’s edge, the birds cover him in a black mass dive bombing his head as they fight to get at the bucket of food. Dangling a piece of chicken skin in the air, it is immediately gobbled up. These birds are also good catchers as they grab a piece thrown in the air by chef Ooi all in one fluid motion. 

Laura Grigoriew, a visitor dining at the restaurant, has been to the restaurant three times to see the birds. “This is the first time I saw them being hand fed. It is a beautiful sight with the ocean as a beautiful backdrop. It is a fun experience for the family and at the same time to grab some good food at the restaurant.”  

Her travelling companion Chris Gornall, thinks it’s spectacular. “It is good fun, especially for the children to enjoy. Not many places on the Island offer this type of eco-tourism, good food and entertainment.” 

Tukka’s manager Ron Hargrave said three to five birds would turn up occasionally to pick up scraps but then more started arriving. Now there are about 40 birds showing up each day for feeding, he said. 

“When I first bought the restaurant in 2010 we started feeding eels but then the birds started showing up to pick up the leftovers,” he explained. “The only time the birds did not show is when there is a fishing tournament in the area. In order for the birds to help the fishermen find fish we stop feed for the day but the next day the birds are back. If they are not fed, they head out to sea and catch their own food.” 

According to Chef Hargrave, the birds like chicken skin and fish trimmings. “I suppose the fat gives them a lot of energy since they spend more time in the air than on the ground. What is pretty unique, he said, is the birds will not take feeding from anyone else but Chef Ooi. “A lot of people have come by during feeding but the birds will not take the food from the hand of a stranger.”  

This is an eco-tourism event if ever there was one is in the eastern district of Grand Cayman for those visiting or passing Tukka. 

Frigate birds, also knows as the man-o-war or what some Caymanians call scissors tail, are usually found around tropical waters searching out schools of fish. Fishermen use the birds to locate fish. 

Black with a long tail and wing spans up to six feet, the male birds usually have a red pouch and the female a white belly. 

They spend most of the time in the air because they cannot swim or walk on land well. They live in trees or on cliffs near to the sea where they catch their food. Very fast, they use their bills to snatch food from the sea. It is said when a storm is approaching these birds can be seen circling an island.