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Galapagos Boobies: Blue-Footed, Red-Footed and Nazca

Updated on February 18, 2013

Explore The Wonderful Creatures Of The Islands

Boobies are large, striking seabirds with long dagger-like bills, cigar-shaped bodies, and, in flight, long pointed wings and a characteristic wedge-shaped tail. While on a Galapagos cruise, you can see the three types of Boobies that inhabit the islands: Blue-footed, Red-Footed and Nazca (or Masked) boobies.

All Booby species have short legs but large webbed feet which, in the case of the Red-footed and Blue-footed boobies are used during courtship - the birds deliberately lifting their feet and showing them to their mates in a beautiful ritual. Boobies feed at sea by plunge-diving from the air.

Red-Footed, Blue-Footed & Masked Boobies

Nazca Boobies

Nazca boobies are common residents of Galapagos, with an estimated population between 15,000 - 20,000 pairs. They were formerly treated as a subspecies of the Masked Booby (sula dactylatra), which is why they are often still referred to as Masked boobies. However, they now hold full species status.

Nazca Boobies breed throughout the year, with colonies on different islands nesting at different times. They lay eggs on Genovesa Island between August and November and on Española Island between November and February. Like their blue-footed relatives, they nest on the ground. Males and females are alike, although females tend to be slightly larger with a duller bill. This is the only black and white booby with an orange-yellow bill and has distinctive bright yellow eyes.

Nazca boobies are known for practicing siblicide. This means that they lay two eggs, several days apart, and if both eggs hatch, the elder chick will kill its sibling by pushing it out of the nest and leaving it to die of hunger or cold. Parent boobies will not intervene in this natural process of selection, and the younger chick will unavoidably die. Scientists believe that this species lays two eggs as an assurance that at least one survives, in case the other dies soon after hatching or is eaten by predators.

Nazca Boobies Laying Eggs - Rare Footage in their Environment

Blue-Footed Boobies

Blue-footed boobies are common residents of the Galapagos and their bright-blue feet makes it impossible for this species to be confused with any other. Their total population is estimated at around 20,000 pairs and they breed throughout the year. Just like their masked cousins (and unlike their red-footed cousins) Blue-footed boobies nest on the ground. Males and females are very similar, although females have a pigmented area around the iris, making their pupil appear larger.

Red-Footed Boobies

Red-footed boobies are the smallest of Galapagos boobies and are also common residents of the Islands. However, they are found in fewer islands than Blue-footed or Nazca boobies with over half of the total population of these birds being found on the northern Island of Tower (Genovesa). They are also found on Wolf, Darwin, and Española Islands. Their population is estimated at around 15,000 pairs. Red-footed boobies breed throughout the year, nesting colonially on trees, while Blue-footed and Masked boobies nest on the ground. Also, unlike their cousins, Red-footed boobies have two color forms as adults: brown and white. Both forms have the very distinctive combination of red feet and blue bill.

Red-footed boobies are partially nocturnal, feeding well away from land. This perhaps explains why it is less frequently encountered at sea during our Galapagos cruises than other boobies despite being the most numerous species in Galapagos.

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