Tropical latitudes of the eastern Pacific Ocean
Nest on rocky shores; feed in coastal to open ocean (pelagic) waters
Active (diving) predator
Order Pelecaniformes (pelicans, boobies, and relatives), Family Sulidae (boobies)
The blue-footed booby is a seabird named for its very distinctive bright blue feet. As individuals of this species become mature, their feet turn blue, a secondary sex characteristic used in courtship behavior to attract mates. The name “booby” comes from the Spanish word bobo – meaning foolish – and describes these species’ clumsiness on land and willingness to approach people.
Like all boobies, the blue-footed booby gets all of its food from marine sources. This species’ preferred prey includes anchovies, sardines, and other small, pelagic fishes and perhaps the occasional squid. These prey species thrive in cold, highly productive areas where deep water upwells to the surface, so blue-footed boobies tend to be associated with those areas as well. Throughout this bird’s range (the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean), primary upwelling zones include the Midriff Islands in the Gulf of California, Mexico; the Galapagos Islands; and the coast of Peru. Blue-footed boobies feed by diving into surface waters at high speeds and chasing their prey underwater. This behavior is often done in groups, where squadrons of boobies attack large groups of schooling fish.
As in all seabirds, blue-footed boobies nest on land, typically on small islands near their preferred feeding grounds. Blue-footed boobies are known for their courtship behaviors, where males dance very specific movements to attract females. Once a female selects a male, the pair remains monogamous for at least that breeding season. After mating, clutches of two to three eggs are laid directly on the ground, and both parents take turns incubating the eggs. Several breeding pairs nest together, forming very large breeding colonies. After hatching, both parents continue to care for the chicks, so they must make daily feeding trips during that time. This likely contributes to the nesting sites being close to feeding areas. The first chick to emerge gets most of the parents’ attention and is often the only chick to survive.
Blue-footed boobies have no natural predators on land and few natural predators at sea. Furthermore, they are naturally quite curious. Therefore, they typically do not become alarmed if approached by people on land, and they often land on boats to explore people while at sea. Populations of blue-footed boobies are stable, and the species is generally considered a species of least concern. However, overfishing of their preferred prey species could potentially reduce population sizes in the future, and continued scientific study and monitoring of population trends will ensure that any negative changes will be discovered early and handled appropriately.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.