Galapagos Essentials: 6 Things You Need to Know About Red-Footed Boobies

1. Red-footed boobies are the smallest of the Galapagos booby species.

The Nazca boobies at  are the largest boobies in the Galapagos. The famous blue-footed boobies are considered medium-sized. At 77 cm (30 inches) the red-footed booby is the smallest of its clan.

2. Genovesa Island is the best place to see red-footed boobies.

This island hosts a red-footed booby colony that is likely that largest in the world. Many red-footed boobies also nest at Punta Pitt, on the eastern tip of San Cristobal Island, and a few live on an islet just off Floreana Island. For them, to live in the corners of the archipelago makes perfect sense, as these boobies forage on the outskirts of Galapagos waters. They have a particular taste for flying fish, which they catch thanks to their ability to fly at high speeds.

3. Red-footed boobies are good at flying, but bad at taking off.

These remarkable fliers can travel up to 93 miles looking for food. However, because they are so small, it is difficult for them to make their initial take-off. Without the help of the wind, they have to run and flap their wings in order to gain enough momentum. When they are using the ocean as a starting point, they push upward using the surface pressure of the water in order to build up force for take-off.

Red-Footed Booby Flying

Red-Footed Booby Flying

4. They are expert divers.

Forget SCUBA classes! Boobies can plunge to depths of up to 30 meters to catch fish. They don’t need diving equipment because they can close their nostrils before entering the water in order to stop themselves from inhaling water.

5. Red-footed boobies are a polymorphic species.

In non-scientific terms, this means that individual red-footed boobies can look different from each other. Some have white feathers, others have brown feathers. Some birds have brown feathers and white tails, and there are even variations in the shades of color. Its beak tends to be light blue, turning to pink around the mouth and above the eyes, and its feet are characteristically red, with white claws. Scientists are not certain about the genetic reasons or benefits of polymorphism. Brown plumage is the most common in Galapagos.
Adults have feathers varying from white to brown tones. At the same time, hatchlings look much like the Nazca boobies, all in white with black beaks. They generally build their simple nests in low-lying branches of trees or bushes, unlike all other booby species. To do this, they have longer toes than other boobies, allowing them to grasp and hold on to twigs and branches.

Polymorphism. Not all red-footed boobies have the same color plumage.

Polymorphism. Not all red-footed boobies have the same color plumage. Photo by Nicolás Bahamonde

 

6. Red-footed boobies are the only children.

Nazca boobies are infamous as practitioners of siblicide: Competition between young born at the same time sometimes results in one of the offspring killing the other. The pressure is off for red-footed booby babies, as females only lay one egg at a time.
Check out your options for a Galapagos cruise that stops in Genovesa or Punta Pitt to see these beautiful birds for yourself!

Red-Footed Booby

Red-Footed Booby. Photo by Nicolás Bahamonde

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Writer, translator. Enthusiastic traveler of Ecuador and the Galapagos.

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