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Red-footed booby

Red-footed booby Sula lifting her wings

Not on Exhibit

Animal Facts

  • Scientific Name

    Sula sula

  • Animal Type

    Birds

  • Diet

    fish, squid

  • Size

    27-31 inches (69-79 cm)

  • Relatives

    other boobies and gannets

  • Habitat

    Coastal Waters

  • Range

    Pantropical distribution including Caribbean Sea; Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans; seas north of Australia

Natural History

The red-footed booby is a social seabird found in colonies near warm coastal waters around the world. Petite (for a booby) and uniquely polymorphic — having different physical variations within the species — the usually-brown chick will develop its red feet plus one of several possible plumage palettes by adulthood at around 2 to 3 years old.

From the trees to the seas
Unlike its blue-footed cousins, the red-footed booby nests in trees. If you find yourself walking around the Galapagos, you may see the two booby cousins within feet of each other, the red in the trees and the blue on the ground nearby!

The red-footed booby's red feet are as functional as they are bright, with articulated joints for gripping tree branches plus webbing for smooth swimming at sea.

Built-in hunting gear
From feathers to feet, this booby's body helps it hunt. A long, serrated beak facilitates a dive-and-snatch strategy for finding dinner. When heading off to hunt, it will cruise 30–40 feet in the air, then dive into the ocean to snatch fish. Usually these dives are shallow, only about 8 feet or less, but scientists are finding that different colonies have different strategies for finding food, so there could be red-footed boobies diving much deeper!

Nobody wants to get water in their nostrils, red-footed boobies included. Another of its adaptations for diving is a set of secondary nostrils that can close up to keep water out during a high-speed dive (to complement its always-closed primary nostrils). Its eyes stay dry while diving, too! A nictitating membrane over its eyes, sort of like a clear third eyelid, acts as a kind of goggle.

How fast does the booby dive? It's safe to say "pretty fast" but hard to say exactly — each species of booby has unique hunting patterns.


Conservation

Red-footed boobies are plentiful in the wild. However, they can end up as bycatch as a result of some fishing methods. The red-footed booby here at the Aquarium, Sula, was injured by a fishing hook and unable to survive on her own.


Cool Facts

As curious animals that live on islands far away from humans, the booby family of birds doesn't have a natural fear of humans. That's why Spanish sailors used to call these birds "bobo," or "stupid," when they would fly straight onto fishing boats — the hungry sailors frequently feasted on a fearless "bobo" dinner. Eventually, the word "bobo" became "booby," the current name for the genus.



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