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BOOBIES
Blue-footed booby
Blue-footed booby
Description
32-34" [81-86 cm]. Large seabird with long pointed bill, wings, and tail. Head and neck pale, streaked brown. Wings, back, and tail dark brown; white patches on nape and rump; underparts white. Legs and feet bright blue. Back and rump of immatures slightly mottled. Brown Booby lacks white patches on nape and rump; its feet are yellow or greenish yellow.

Voice

Usually silent; trumpeting and whistling noises on breeding grounds.

Habitat

Open sea.

Nesting

2 or 3 chalky pale blue or green eggs laid on the ground. Usually nests in colonies on islands or isolated cliffs.

Range

Breeds from Gulf of California south to Peru. In summer, a few stray to Salton Sea in southeastern California or, infrequently, to southern California coast.

Discussion
Boobies fly fairly high over the ocean with steady, rapid, even strokes, followed by a short glide. When fishing, Blue-footed Boobies plunge headlong into the water with wings partly folded; they sometimes snatch flying fish out of the air.



Red-footed booby
Description
Red-footed booby
26-30" [66-77 cm]. W. 36-40" [91-101 cm]. Smallest of the sulids. Plumage highly variable. Three principal adult color phases; all have straight, pale blue bills, bright red feet, bare pink facial skin at base of bill. White-phase adults are all white with dark flight feathers, have a dark carpal patch on the underwing, and a variable golden-yellow wash; white-tailed form is all brown with white rump and tail; the white-headed brown form resembles white-tailed, but in addition the head and neck are white [Pacific only]. Juveniles pale brown with drab yellowish-gray feet; blackish-brown bill; matures over 2-3 years.

Voice

Usually silent at sea.

Habitat

Open oceans and subtropical islands [e.g., Dry Tortugas].

Nesting

Nests colonially in tree cavities on tropical islands; one egg; engages in "sky pointing" display similar to other sulids, but given in trees; nesting dates vary with location and conditions; large egg and long incubation period; young develop slowly.

Range

Breeds on tropical islands worldwide, including Caribbean, Galapagos, Indian Ocean; strays to Dry Tortugas off Florida, accidental off Gulf and California coasts.

Discussion
A pantropical species, the Red-footed's lifestyle is adapted to the relatively nutrient-poor waters in which it hunts for fish and squid; when feeding young, engages in long foraging flights, at times exceeding 90 miles [150 km]; may follow ships for long distances; flies quickly and gracefully, plunge dives or snatches flying fish in mid-air; nocturnal habits discourage piracy by frigatebirds. Local populations may crash with the cyclical loss of food species, or with deforestation of tropical islands.



Masked booby
Description
Masked Booby
32" [81 cm]. A stocky white seabird with black tail, black tips and trailing edges to the wings, and stout pinkish or orange bill. In breeding season, birds have patch of bare, bluish skin at base of bill. Northern Gannet similar but larger, with only wing tips black.

Voice
Usually silent; a variety of hissing and quacking notes on breeding grounds.

Habitat

Tropical seas.

Nesting

2 chalky, pale blue eggs in a shallow depression on the ground. Nests in colonies.

Range

Breeds in Bahamas and West Indies, and on other islands in tropical Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. A rare visitor to coasts of Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, and in Gulf Stream to Carolinas.

Discussion
Like many birds that nest on remote oceanic islands, boobies have little fear of humans. Because of their tameness they were easily killed for food by early mariners, who gave them their name (from the Spanish bobo, "stupid") for this reason. Boobies obtain their prey in spectacular plunges from the air into the sea. Principal foods include flying fish and squid; boobies are seldom found in areas where these marine creatures are not plentiful.



Brown booby
Brown Booby
Description
30" [76 cm]. Adult has dark brown head, upperparts, and breast, with sharply contrasting white belly and white underwing coverts. Immature is gray-brown above and below; darker on head, wings, and tail.

Voice
Usually silent, but gives a variety of quacking, grunting, and screeching calls on the breeding grounds.

Habitat
Tropical and subtropical seas; breeds on coastal islands.

Nesting
1-3 pale blue or green eggs on bare ground in a slight mound of broken shells and scattered vegetation, usually at the edge of a cliff.

Range
Worldwide in tropical seas. Summer visitor to Gulf Coast and Caribbean Sea; casually farther north in western Atlantic; occasionally seen in southern California’s Salton Sea; accidental along Pacific Coast.

Discussion
Of the boobies seen off the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, this species is by far the most plentiful. Like the Northern Gannet, they dive for fish by plunging into the sea, but they also skim the surface to catch flying fish that leap clear of the surf. Frigatebirds often harass boobies, chasing them and forcing them to disgorge their prey, which the agile frigatebird then catches in midair. When on the wing, but not fishing, boobies often flap and glide in lines close to the surface of the waves and may resemble shearwaters. On land, these birds are dependent on a strong wind for takeoff from a tree or other elevated perch. On calm days they rest in vegetation or on the ground.
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