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What are Boobies?

Updated on April 10, 2012

Boobies and how they were named

The booby received its humiliating name from the ease which it allows itself to be captured, it is derived from the Spanish bobo, meaning 'fool'. This is reference to their landing on the decks of ships and being unable to take off, so falling as easy prey to the sailors.

Similar names indicating apparent stupidity have been given to the closely related North Atlantic gannet. This is Basstolpel in German (Tolpel = clumsy fellow) and Fou de bassan in French.

Belonging to the family Sulidae, there are six species, members of the genus Sula, of the large seabird known as the booby.

Found mainly in tropical areas of the South Seas, some also range along the southern coast of the United States.

Boobies grow to about 85 cm in length and have large, brightly colored bills and feet. Their plumage is mostly white with brown or black markings, although the brown booby is dark brown with a white belly. They are strong fliers and travel hundreds of kilometers out to sea to feed on fish or squid, which they catch by diving from great heights into the water. Boobies live in colonies and, whereas most species nest on the ground or on rock ledges, some make rough nests of sticks in trees or bushes. They incubate their eggs by placing their feet over them and resting their entire body weight on the lower part of their legs. Two eggs are usually laid, a few days apart, and the first chick hatched is the one to survive.

The second egg is thought to be a precaution against accident to the first and about 20 per cent of boobies are raised from second eggs. Their name comes from the apparent stupidity they show by landing on ships at sea and allowing themselves to be caught by sailors.


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    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      You've got to chuckle at boobies - the blue footed booby - Sula nebouxii is my favourite.