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No ~Hula~ for the Red-Footed Booby!

Posted by Greg on April 25, 2012

Often seen perched on coastal trees and shrubs, the colorful Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) lives and breeds on tropical and subtropical islands and atolls of the Caribbean Sea, the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and the three seas north of Australia.

Adult Red-Footed Booby With Chick. (Photo:GSH1967/Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike blue-footed boobies, red-footed boobies don’t have an elaborate mating dance. Nesting on land, these handsome sea birds breed throughout the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWMI) and at limited sites on the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI).  Red-footed boobies, or ′ā (as they are known in Hawaii), are the only boobies that commonly nest in small trees and shrubs. Egg laying usually peaks from February through April, with the ′ā producing only one egg per season. Equal opportunity guardians, both the males and females share in incubation duties. The young are ready to fly around September. The doting parents feed their young for up to 4 months after fledging (developing wing feathers large enough for flight).

White Morph Red-footed Booby in Flight Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

White Morph Red-footed Booby (Photo:PD-USGov-FWS)

Red-footed boobies have been known to follow, and sometimes land, on ships and fishing boats. They feed mostly on squid and fish and can snatch a flying fish, their favorite food, out of the air. Like their blue-footed relatives, they are great divers and have keen eyesight to spot their prey. They can dive from as high as 26 feet to capture their dinner.

Red-footed boobies are the smallest of all the boobies. They measure 28 to 30 inches in length and have a wing span of  around 4 1/2  feet. Unlike their blue-footed relatives, they aren’t very uniform in appearance.  Almost all Hawaiian birds of this species are white, however, according to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: “The Red-footed Booby comes in a confusing array of color morphs, ranging from individuals that are all white except for blackish on the wing, to individuals that are entirely dark brown. Some birds fail to fit neatly into any of the typical color morph categories, and many variations exist. Color morphs do not segregate reproductively or geographically; individuals representing several morphs breed in a single colony.”

Like their booby cousins, they are unafraid of people and easy to capture. In some areas these birds are used for food. Poaching, coupled with other encroachments on their habitat (e.g., insects, rats and feral cats), is resulting in the appearance of declining numbers.

Red-Footed Booby, Kauai, Hawaii (Photo:DickDaniels/Wikimedia Commons)

Jody and I hope that our next Hawaiian vacation will take us to the island of Kauai. We’ll definitely plan a visit to Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, where we now know to be on the lookout for these very interesting and beautiful coastal birds!

-Now, can someone please tell me how to pronounce ′ā?

Have a great day birding at the beach! Aloha! 

Related links: Hawaii’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy

Boobies? Seriously, Boobies, Blue-Footed Booby

National Geographic, Red-Footed Booby


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