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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Boobies – Clowns of the Pacific Coast

Blue-footed Booby (Sula nebouxii)
Boobies are a delightful seabird of the Pacific Coast with a name, appearance and personality that draws smiles from curious observers. A common belief is that the name derives from the Spanish slang expression bubie, signifying “dunce”. As these tropical birds are quite uninhibited, they would often land on the decks of seagoing vessels where they would be easily captured by hungry sailors and became the main course during the afternoon repast. Their jocular appearance and waggish walk add to this conception of an obtuse creature.


Although the booby is commonly attributed to the Galapagos Islands, its range is much wider. Found along the Pacific coast from northern Mexico to northern Chile, this comical seabird finds refuge in the craggy boulders and scraggly brush of small isles and rocks of the seaboard. In Ecuador, boobies can be located on the islands associated with Machalilla National Park, Isla Santa Clara in the Gulf of Guayaquil, as well as the Galapagos Archipelago. Boobies remain in the tropics while their cousins, the gannets, occupy territory further north and south.

The Booby Family of Ecuador

There are five species of Boobies residing along the coast of Ecuador and its possessions. The Blue-footed Booby is the most prominent of this family and probably photographed more than any other seabird. The Nazca and Red-footed boobies are also quite common and can be found breeding on nearby coastal islands as well as the Galapagos. The Peruvian species is an irregular visitant to the southern Ecuadorian coast and the Brown Booby is uncertain as there are few records posted.

Nazca Booby (Sula granti)

Boobies are large seabirds between 66-86.4 cm (26-34 in) in length. They have powerful pointed bills, long sharply tapered wings, narrow tails and broad webbed feet. Males and females are very similar with the voice being the best indicator of sex. Feeding on fish, they can be seen diving from great heights, as much as 100m (330 ft) and then pursuing their prey after entering the water. Air sacks within their faces cushion the impact with the water. They breed in colonies and can be seen in large flocks along the craggy cliffs of offshore islands. Nests are built on the ground, and occasionally in trees, where one or more chalky-blue eggs are laid.


Male boobies will perform a courtship dance to impress the female, spreading their wings and stomping their feet as if to a listening to a melodious serenade. Once they are mated the male will remain monogamous, although they have been know to suffer from a roving eye. Both the male and female will share the incubation of the eggs, keeping them warm with their feet. Once the eggs are hatched, the adults will catch fish, swallow them, and then regurgitate the masticated nutrient to the young. The males perform the feeding duties during the first few days of the incubation period.


Boobies are a peculiar bird that will entertain and delight the curious visitor. Relatively friendly, they can easily be approached for photos and closer contact. However, respect the rules of the reservations and the personal space of the birds. These amusing creatures can be observed on the Galapagos Islands, Isla de la Plate in the Machalilla National Park, Isla Santa Clara in the Gulf a Guayaquil, and along the rock islands along the Ecuadorian coast from Esmeraldas south. A trip to the seaside is not complete without spending some time with these clowns of the Pacific coast. 

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