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Colourful Cousins: The Three Types of Boobies in the Galapagos

Colourful Cousins: The Three Types of Boobies in the Galapagos

The Three Types of Boobies in the Galapagos

In the avian world, boobies refers to a small group of birds, taken from the Spanish word “bobo” or clumsy to refer to their rather comical way of walking around on land. A palette of colours helps us distinguish between the three beautiful species of boobies that populate the Galapagos. They’re both funny and mesmerizing creatures to observe, and they’re definitely worth checking out. So, without further ado, we present you with the three types of boobies in the Galapagos.

Dashing in Red

Compensating for their relatively small size with both their abilities in the air and water, the red-footed booby is actually the smallest of the trio. They are remarkable in that they’re capable of covering up to 150 km (93 mi) of ocean in flight. What’s more is that they’re super deft at striking life out of the water with their powerful eyesight, diving up to 40 metres (0.02 mi) underwater to catch any fish that tickles their fancy. Their iconic red feet are another tool in their air-to-water hunting: their intensely webbed feet-flippers allow them to swim at even faster speeds and push themselves around when underwater. Despite their webbed feet, red-footed boobies have held onto the peculiar habit of perching on Galapagos flora, the same way birds with separate digits do. They are seen on our Northern and Eastern Itinerary on the northern coast of San Cristobal Island.

Red-footed booby, one of the three types of boobies in the Galapagos

Red-footed booby, one of the three types of boobies in the Galapagos

Bold in Blue

Blue-footed boobies, or Sula nebouxii, are the most representative of the three due to the colour of their feet. Their amazing shade of blue is not only attractive to look at for us humans, but it is also the determining factor in this beautiful bird’s mating ritual. The bluer the feet, the more enticed the female will be. Their lovely courtship involves an almost-silly looking dance, where the male slowly but surely flaunts its blue feet one at a time. The female responds to the dance with reflexive movements. They clack their bills, whistle, grunt, and continue with the dance until either the female agrees to mate or turns around and goes looking for bluer feet.

Both in air and water, they are quite the pros, capable of spotting small fish (such as sardines, anchovies and mackerel) from high up in the air and then diving at a speed of 96.5 km/hour (60 mi/hr), like missiles dropped from a plane to catch the unaware prey.

Blue-footed booby

Blue-footed booby

Having evolved on the island without any predators to disturb their peaceful existence, boobies are practically unaware of the human presence around them – a common trait with almost all of the fauna that inhabit islands. Blue-footed boobies can be seen on almost every island of the archipelago.

Masked and Merciless

The Nazca booby (formerly known as the masked booby) is the largest of all three boobies in the Galapagos and is the most violently competitive too. Aside from their white plumage, black-tipped feathers and orange beak, one of the most interesting things about this bird is the behaviour exhibited by their chicks. Nazca boobies lay two eggs that are just a couple of days apart, and it turns out that all hatchlings commit the same pattern of siblicide. It’s always the older chick that pushes the newborn chick out of the nest, and the parents never take any action with respect to this. Nature runs its course, and scientists believe this is the Nazca booby’s own “insurance policy”: should the first egg not survive, the second egg will be present to fill its space. But should the first one succeed in hatching, the second egg is doomed.

Nazca boobies can be spotted on Genovesa, Española, and Floreana.

Nazca booby

Nazca booby

Christopher Klassen

With parents that worked for the U.S. Foreign Service up until he graduated from high school, Chris was raised to have the heart of a nomad throughout his life. He has resided in Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador throughout his years, and just recently spent the past four up in Canada finishing his Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy & English at the University of British Columbia.