The Blue-footed Booby

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            The blue-footed booby is a large and rather comical-looking seabird, instantly recognizable by its bright blue webbed feet. Blue-footed boobies, are famous for two reasons: their link to Charles Darwin’s expedition to the Galapagos Islands, and their name. The appellation does in fact have a somewhat silly meaning: The word "booby" comes from the Spanish "bobo," meaning "stupid fellow," and was probably inspired by the bird's clumsiness on land and apparently unwarranted bravery (as they don’t fear human).


            Boobies are large sea bird that have webbed toes, have a characteristic long and pointed bill that is thick at the base, and have long, wedge-shaped tails. The Blue-footed Booby is named for the bright blue color of its tarsi and toes. Otherwise The Blue-footed Booby has a brown back and wings; the head and neck are white, with numerous short, narrow, dusky streaks; and the breast and belly are white. Its eyes are placed on either side of its bill and oriented towards the front, enabling excellent binocular vision. Its eyes are a distinctive yellow, with the male having more yellow in its irises than the female. Blue-footed booby chicks have black beaks and feet and are clad in a layer of soft white down.


Relative Size

            The Blue-footed Booby bird is a little under three feet long and its wingspan is about five feet and weighs 1.5 kg (3.3 lab).


Did You Know

            The Blue-footed Booby bird plunges head first into the ocean, with its wings partly folded, to catch fish. For this reason, they have permanently closed nostrils made for diving and they breathe through the corners of their mouths.  It even catches flying fish when they are still in the air.


Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Pelecaniformes
Family
Sulidae
Genus
Sula
Species
nebouxii
  Status

            The Blue-footed boobies are evaluated as Least ConcernThis species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion. The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion. The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion.


Population

In the 1960s, the Galapagos Islands were home to almost half of the world’s breeding population of blue-footed boobies, with a population of around 20,000 breeding birds. However, research suggests that blue-footed booby populations in the Galapagos have suffered large declines in recent years, with an estimated population of just 6,400 birds in 2012.


Habitat

The blue-footed booby is a coastal species, foraging in cool, offshore waters, and nesting on open ground on rocky coasts, cliffs or islands. It is strictly a marine bird. Its only need for land is to breed and rear young, which it does along the rocky coasts of the eastern Pacific.



Range

            This species is found on the western coast of the Americas, ranging from north-west Mexico and Panama to north Peru and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. When food is scarce, it can be seen as far north as California (USA) and northern Chile.


Biology

The blue-footed booby's diet consists mainly of fish. It is a specialized fish eater, feeding on small school fish such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and flying fish. It also feeds on squid and offal. It spends much of it time at sea searching for congregations of shoaling fish, on which it feeds by plunge-diving from great heights allowing them to access fish at greater depths.  These birds hit the water around 97 km/h (60 mph) and can go to depths of 25 m (82 ft) below the water surface.


The blue-footed booby is monogamous and an opportunistic breeder. It is perhaps best known for its ritualized courtship displays, especially the "foot-rocking" display in which it alternatively lifts its bright-blue feet for its mate to see, a comical spectacle, but evidently highly attractive to the species.


The female blue-footed booby lays two or three eggs. Eggs are laid about four to five days apart. Both male and female take turns incubating the eggs, while the non-sitting bird keeps watch, usually the incubation period is 41–45 days. Since the blue-footed booby does not have a brooding patch, it uses its feet to keep the eggs warm.


Predators

On the Galápagos Islands, the Galapagos Hawk is the only predator of Blue-footed Boobies. This predator attacks nestling boobies when their parents begin to leave them unattended during parts of the day. The hawk mainly attacks the smaller and younger (second hatched) of the two nestlings. Nestlings are typically attended by at least one parent at night, offering protection from the nocturnal predator, the Short-eared Owl.


Threats

Little information is available on the potential threats to the blue-footed booby from human activities such as fishing, or from the effects of global warming on the marine ecosystem. However, in the Galapagos this charismatic species may be vulnerable to a number of threats facing the islands, including introduced predators, increasing tourism and urbanization, unsustainable fishing, pollution, and habitat degradation. The latest research confirms the decline in population, and suggests that it may be closely tied to a decline in clupeid fish, especially sardines, in the boobies’ diet. The results of this project, suggest that the Blue-footed Booby population is having trouble breeding, resulting in a slowly declining population that is experiencing typical adult mortality but little replenishment from new young adults.


Conservation Measures

           No specific conservation measures are known to be in place for the blue-footed booby throughout most of its range. However, it is protected in the Galapagos Islands, where its numbers, breeding success and population are regularly monitored, and where various conservation efforts are underway to protect the unique wildlife of these fascinating islands.


References

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