Red-footed Booby
Red-footed Booby above its nest
Red-footed Booby

Common name: Red-footed Booby
Scientific name: Sula sula
Length: 70 cm on average, wingspan of about 1 m
Weight: 900 to 1,003 g (about 2 lb)
Population: abundant
Distribution: tropical islands worldwide, significant population in the Galapagos Islands
Issue: habitat destruction, overfishing, over-harvesting of eggs, invasive species
IUCN Red List status: least concern

The Red-footed Booby is the smallest of the 10 species in the family of boobies and gannets, medium-sized seabirds with conical beaks and long, narrow, pointed wings.
Although a strong flier, the Red-footed Booby is somewhat clumsy on land. However, it has many traits that make it a formidable fisher.

Its slender, serrated beak allow it to grasp and swallow prey. Its nostrils are closed, allowing it to dive without choking, and it has secondary nostrils with tiny “valves” that close during dives (which can reach up to 25 metres in depth). Its long, pointed wings are situated relatively far back on its body, helping it fly in strong and turbulent winds. As it dives, it folds its wings into its body, taking on an aerodynamic (low air drag) and hydrodynamic (low water drag) torpedo-like shape. Its red feet, from which it gets its name, are located at the back of its body to help it swim. The feet are “vascularized,” meaning that they contain numerous prominent veins that can transfer heat to chicks when necessary. It also has small extensions on its bronchial tubes that are beneficial when diving. Its large, highly acute eyes allow it to locate schools of fish and hunt at night. When one booby finds a promising fishing area, many others will follow and dive after it. This makes for spectacular scenes, with Red-footed Boobies making fast, agile dives and panicked fish flying in all directions. Boobies swallow their prey before returning to the surface, which prevents other birds from stealing them. Its favourite prey are flying fish and squid, but it will readily feed on many other species.

Red-footed Boobies breed every 15 months on average. After the male and female have engaged in courtship displays, including elaborate calls and greetings (even more extensive in larger colonies), the female lays one egg in a nest generally constructed on the branches of a tree. Parents take turns brooding, with their vascularized feet, for about 45 days. At birth, chicks are born without feathers or down and require constant warmth from the feet of their parents for the first few months after hatching. Juveniles may fledge as soon as 90 days after hatching (140 days when food is scarce) and reach sexual maturity after two or three years.
So as not to hinder their flying abilities, Red-footed Boobies replace their plumage once or twice a year. This is a gradual and continuous process, with the exception of the breeding period. They can live up to 40 years.

While the species is not threatened worldwide, populations of Red-footed Boobies slowly declined throughout the 20th century. Its primary threats are deforestation (because it nests in trees) and various fisheries (human demand for food fish species competes directly with animals that feed on the same species). In certain regions, their eggs are harvested, and this practice has rapidly turned into over-exploitation. The species is protected in a number of countries, including the United States.

Did you know?
When diving for prey, Red-footed Boobies can reach speeds of 96 km/h. At that speed, if they fail to assume a streamlined shape, they could easily break their necks.

REFERENCES: Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Encyclopedia of Life.

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