Worldwide in tropical latitudes except in the eastern Atlantic Ocean
Nest in coastal trees; feed in coastal to open ocean (pelagic) waters
Active (diving) predator
Order Pelecaniformes (pelicans, boobies, and relatives), Family Sulidae (boobies)
The red-footed booby is a seabird named for its very distinctive bright red feet. As individuals of this species become mature, their feet turn red, 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 red-footed booby gets all of its food from marine sources. This species’ preferred prey includes flyingfishes and squids. These prey species thrive in the open ocean and therefore red-footed boobies spend much of their time at sea. Red-footed boobies feed by diving into surface waters at high speeds and chasing their prey underwater. Flyingfishes are also sometimes captured right out of the air while they are fleeing from underwater predators.
As in all seabirds, red-footed boobies nest on land, typically on small islands near their preferred feeding grounds. Red-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 and perhaps through several seasons. After mating, a single egg is laid in a tree nest (as opposed to on the ground), and both parents take turns incubating the egg. Several breeding pairs nest together, forming very large breeding colonies. After hatching, both parents continue to care for the chick, so they must make regular feeding trips during that time.
Red-footed boobies have few natural predators and are naturally curious. They often land on boats to explore people while at sea. Though populations of red-footed boobies are decreasing, scientists generally consider this species to be of least concern. The downward trends are not yet rapid enough to warrant significant concern. However, continued scientific study and monitoring of population trends is necessary to ensure that these reductions do not threaten the future viability of breeding colonies and overall populations.
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.