boobies blue foot
Beach Birds, Birdwatching Information

Blue-Footed Boobies – Daddy Needs A New Pair Of Shoes

There are five types of boobies which can be seen along the North American coastline today.

They are mainly found in the southern states along the Pacific Ocean, with many of them having breeding sites in the Dry Tortugas Islands, which are sand islands just off the shore of the  Florida Keys .

Collectively, these are a family of fairly large seabirds.

 

The family also includes other birds, but these five are the ones which will be most likely spotted on the shorelines of the USA this summer.

These are the blue footed booby, red footed booby, brown booby, masked booby and the nazca booby. This time around, we’re going to take a closer look at the blue-footed booby, so buckle up!

Here is what we are going to cover today:

Blue-footed Booby Quick Stats
Characteristics
Range and Habitat
Diet
Social Behaviour and Breeding
Blue-footed Booby Mating Dance Videos

Let’s start with some quick info about these birds…


Blue-Footed Booby Quick Info

blue footed booby-birdNAME:  SULA NEBOUXII
BODY LENGTH:  32-35 INCHES
WINGSPAN:  4.9 FEET
WEIGHT:  3.3 POUNDS
CLUTCH SIZE:  1-3 EGGS
INCUBATION PERIOD:  41-50 DAYS
HABITATS:  TROPICAL ISLANDS OF PACIFIC OCEAN AND GULF OF MEXICO
BREEDING AGE:  1-6 YEARS (FEMALE) 2-6 YEARS (MALE)
DISTINGUISHING FEATURES:  BLUE FEET
COLOR:  LIGHT BROWN AND WHITE UNDERBELLY
LONGEVITY:  17 YEARS
DIET:  FISH – SARDINES, MACKEREL, ANCHOVIES
SPECIES STATUS:  LEAST THREATENED

Next, we discuss what makes this bird so special…


Blue-footed Booby Characteristics

blue footed boobies bird

The blue footed booby is a species you will definitely recognize.   

If you do spot one on the coastlines of the Pacific this summer, it will probably be stomping about in its fabulously blue colored webbed feet.

The bright blue feet of these famous birds, are due to the carotenoid pigments found in its fishy diet.  

Research has shown that boobies who have been deprived of food for a couple of days, have substantially duller feet than their well fed counterparts.

But their blue suede shoes are not just for looking pretty – well, actually, they sort of are.  

Both sexes find the allure and pull of a partner with the brightest colored footwear something of a catch.

Bright blues will be prized over their lackluster counterparts. Research shows that when the male partners had their feet dulled by makeup, the females laid smaller eggs.  

This suggests they were less willing to invest in the production of egg laying to a less desirable partner.

Similarly, as well as opting to mate with the brighter colored females, a male is more likely to invest time in incubating a smaller egg, laid by a brightly colored female, whereas, the duller footed sister will only get a commitment to any larger egg that they lay.

baby booby birds

The blue-footed booby is on average 32 to 34 inches long and weighs around 3.2 pounds. The females are slightly larger than the males.

This species has long and pointed brown wings. The neck and the head of the bird are light brown with white streaks. The belly and the underside are usually pure white.

Its eyes are located on either side of its bill and oriented towards the front. This enables excellent binocular vision.

Its eyes are distinctively yellow, which makes these birds easy to identify. The males have more yellow in their irises than the females. Blue footed booby chicks have black beaks and feet.

Clutch sizes are typically two eggs, sometimes three, but sadly the younger chicks are in for a rocky ride.  

Not so much from a parent  – although the blue booby’s parenting style can be described as hands off – but from their big brother/sister!

Boobies, blue boobies included, take sibling rivalry to a whole new level.

The older offspring will peck, attack and in some cases simply dispatch the younger hatchling out of the nest, as the parent looks on in apparent disinterest.  

However, this usually only occurs during periods of food shortages.  Other types of boobies are far more murderous (for example the nazca or masked boobies).

But there is evidence that the parents deliberately build their nests with steep enough sides to try and prevent the ejection of their youngest chick.  

This is in contrast to the masked booby, who has a flat nest and whose chicks almost always kill their younger siblings.

blue footed boobies

And unlike some other species, the blue footed booby parents will actually attempt to feed their younger chick and not just on the ‘leftover’ basis that some species do – i.e.) they don’t only allow them scraps once their elder sibling has stuffed its beak.

The laying and hatching of the eggs is timed so that they are generally about four days apart in time.  

This gives the firstborn birds a chance to increase in strength a bit, and to let the parent focus their energies on their newer arrival.  

It also lessens the chances of both birds being immediately taken by a predator.

Research has shown that perhaps the time gap involved in the hatching of chicks aids the chances of both their survival, as there is likely to be less sibling aggression from the older to the younger.

blue footed boobie and chick

However, because females are actually larger than male birds, it has been observed that in times of food shortage, the mother is more likely to invest her energies in feeding their male offspring.  

This is simply because they are likely to be smaller, and therefore require less food.

The blue booby has been noted to try and rectify the imbalance between younger and older chicks.  

Since subsequent eggs in a clutch are usually smaller and lighter, which means a poorer outcome for the chick, the booby parent will try and feed their younger, smaller offspring.  

Not all birds, or indeed booby species do this – so perhaps they should be up for some sort of avian parenting award!

Both parents feed their young, with the male bird performing most of the diving needed to obtain food in the early days.

Mackerel, anchovies and sardines make up a large part of the diet of the blue footed booby, and they will often hunt in flocks of up to twelve. One bird will lead the way in the diving party, and then the others will follow.

Boobies dive very impressively, sometimes from as much as three hundred feet in the air.  

They will then descend into the waters like a bolt, traveling around sixty miles per hour, and reaching depths up to  eighty feet.

Despite the pack hunting missions, the blue footed booby prefers to dine alone, taking its prey while they are still underwater.

Male and female boobies hunt and dive slightly differently, based on their differing physiques.

The male’s proportionately longer tail makes him the prime diver for suitable infant food, in the early days of chick rearing, as he can dive exceptionally in both deeper, as well as shallow waters.

The females, being the larger of the two, can, however, carry a greater quantity of fish back to the nest.  

It is thought that the complementary styles of diving, may account for this species greater success in raising two chicks per breeding cycle.

Since half of the population of all blue footed boobies reside in the Galapagos Islands, there was concern in 2014 when a study ascertained that there had been a decline in the number of these birds.

Although still classified as not being endangered, it was discovered that there was a problem with breeding.  

Although the causes of this are not completely clear, scientists suggest that it is most likely caused by a lack of sardines in the area.  

Unlike some other species of booby, the blue footed booby’s reproductive success does seem to be more linked to a consumption of sardines.

Next, we discuss its range and habitat in more details.


Range and Habitat

The blue-footed booby can be found among the continental coasts of the eastern Pacific Ocean, from the Gulf of California to the Galapagos Islands down in Peru. The Galapagos Islands population includes about half of all breeding pairs of blue-footed boobies.

The blue-footed booby is strictly a marine bird. It needs land only to breed and raise its chicks, which it does along the rocky coasts of the eastern Pacific. Resting and roosting birds come near shore or on to shore, where they perch on rocks, trees and other stable platforms.

These birds generally build or scout three or four nesting sites before selecting on a few weeks before the eggs are laid. Their nest is generally a bowl-shaped scrape ringed by feces, called guano.

Moving on to its diet!


Diet

The blue-footed booby feeds on small fish such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and flying fish. It will also sometimes feed on squid and offal.

It hunts its prey by diving into the ocean, often from a great height. It can also swim underwater in pursuit of its prey. It can plunge into the water from heights of 10 to 30 meters, and even up to 100 meters in some occasions.

They hit the water at around 95 km/h and can go to depths up to 25 meters below the water surface. Their skulls have special air sacs that protect the brain from enormous pressure caused by the impact.

They rarely carry their catch when flying. Instead, they usually eat it while underwater. Individuals prefer to hunt and eat on their own instead of with others from their colony.

Next, we take a closer look into its social behavior and breeding process.


Social Behavior and Breeding

Blue-footed boobies are famous for their elaborate mating rituals. The male raises one of his blue foot in the air and then the other as he struts on front of the female. Both the male and female stretch their necks and point their bills to the sky as a part of their courtship ritual.

This bird is monogamous, although it has the potential to become bigamous. Its breeding cycle occurs every 8 to 10 months.

The blue-footed booby is also one of only two species of booby that raises more than one chick in a breeding cycle.

The female generally lays two to four eggs, each egg being laid about five days apart. After the eggs are laid, both the male and the female take turns incubating the eggs. As the blue-footed booby doesn’t have a brooding patch, it uses its feet to generate heat and keep the eggs warm.

The incubation period takes 40 to 45 days, and after that the first chicks begin to hatch. Usually, on or two chicks are hatched from the two to four eggs originally laid.

Once the chicks are hatched, the male and the female share parental responsibilities. The male will generally hunt and provide food for the chicks in the first part of their lives because of his specialized diving skills. The female will help with providing food only when the demand is higher.

If there is no enough food for all the chicks, the parents will feed only the biggest chick, ensuring that the strongest one survives.

Finally, we treat you with some blue-footed booby mating dance videos. Some of their dancing moves might embarrass you lol…


Blue-footed Booby Mating Dance Videos

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