My name is Felix Reyes and I am one of the two photographers aboard the Santa Cruz II Galapagos cruise. I recently began my job here and have come to witness remarkable things throughout the Enchanted Islands since I started. This is one of those experiences.
Nazca Booby Infanticide on Genovesa
It was another day on the beautiful island of Genovesa while we were busy exploring with our guests during our Northern Islands itinerary in Galapagos. It wasn’t long before we came upon a rather unsettling spectacle: an adult Nazca booby (member of our BIG15 group of iconic species in Galapagos) was standing right next to what appeared to be a lifeless Nazca booby chick on the ground, barely moving.
The optimist in me immediately saw this and assumed that the adult Nazca booby was there trying to help or even revive the chick in some way, but I was wrong. Rather than saving the chick from entering its proverbial “eternal slumber,” the adult Nazca booby was doing the complete opposite: it was trying to put the chick down for good.
I was taken aback even more when the adult jumped on top of the small chick in what I really hoped was some feeble attempt to resuscitate the heart of the little booby, but the chick remained immobile. It was when the adult started pecking at and stomping on the baby chick, and that’s when I knew something darker was afoot.
I immediately called over one of our Naturalist Guides to come and check out the scene unfolding before me. Once he came and saw, he somberly began telling me that, more than a chick and its parent, this was actually a victim of evolution and its winged executor. Part of me began to suffer as he explained that sometimes the adult Nazca booby will aim to kill their weaker, younger booby chicks in order to increase the chances of survival for its first chick.
My heart broke right then and there as we looked on, no longer seeing an act of love so much as an act of natural and “necessary” evil in terms of evolution. It was no longer a mother trying to tend to her young so much as a mother trying to ward off competition for her younger, and presumably stronger, offspring. It is a rare act to see the parents partake in such behavior, as siblicide tends to be the more common mode of behavior with Nazca boobies.
Nazca Booby Infanticide: A Sliver of Hope Emerges
Watching the scene of Nazca booby infanticide unfold before us, there came a point where the adult finally seemed satisfied with its lethal “work” of stomping and pecking and finally walked off, leaving the presumably “dead” chick laying on the ground.
Our hearts nearly jumped out of our chests when we saw the chick’s head slowly look up and around, as if checking to see if the coast was clear. It would seem that the chick had endured the voiletn pummels and stomps of the adult Nazca booby and had been playing dead!
Such is the unique and untamed beauty of nature at its purest in the Galapagos! This tiny Nazca booby chick had deceived and dodged its seemingly-cruel fate by means of its resilience and fierce tenacity to life.
I like to think that I will get to see this young Nazca booby on my next trip to Genovesa Island, flying elegant and pure, no longer with down feathers but full of beautiful adult feathers and life, fully deserving his place in the colony of Nazca boobies that live here.