Blue Footed Booby
by Rita Goldner
The delightful subject of this month’s blog is fun and whimsical, and may even appear goofy-looking at times. Of course these attributes launch the blue footed booby to the top of my favorite birds list. About 50 percent of the population lives in the Galapagos Islands; the rest are scattered along the western coast of North/South America. Their name comes from the Spanish word bobo, which means foolish or stupid. It has nothing to do with mammalian anatomy. They earned this name because they have a comically awkward waddle on land.
The boobies’ gait belies their real prowess: flying, swimming, and diving. They soar high over the ocean, searching for the shimmer of a fish, then plummet down from as far as 80 feet in the air. Like a missile, they hit the water at 60 miles per hour, and continue the dive deep down to get the prey. They’ve adapted to this amazing ability by developing special air sacs in their skulls to protect their brains from the immense and sudden change in pressure.
Another skill blue footed boobies have mastered is collaborative parenting. Some mating pairs change partners every season, but the majority stay together over the long haul, and scientists have determined that these established couples have far greater success in raising fledglings. They also share the brooding and feeding chores 50-50. This trait helps the survival of the smaller chicks, since there’s a lot of bullying and sibling rivalry, usually about food availability. Having both parents hunt reduces the likelihood of the bigger chicks ejecting the little ones.
Research teams have studied blue footed booby behavior for decades because they are easy to observe, letting people walk close among them without flying away. Another interesting mating fact scientists discovered is that pairs comprising one older and one younger bird (regardless of which sex is older) are more successful in parenting than same-aged twosomes.
Speaking of mating, that’s the reason for their most famous feature, the fancy footwear. The blue feet are enhanced by diet, the well-nourished individuals having the brightest feet. In most bird species, the male has the best colors – but blue footed booby males and females both sport beautiful feet, ranging from blue to turquoise. Both sexes are quite picky about choosing a mate, and having dull feet is a deal-breaker. Selecting healthy mates ensures the survival of the species. Scientists experimented with painting some single females’ feet dull brown, and they couldn’t get mates. The research also included dull painting on the feet of some males who were already mated and had offspring. When their wives noticed, the next egg was noticeably smaller. Sounds like a mean experiment, in my opinion.
The courtship dance on both sides involves a dramatic lifting of feet, showing them to the prospective mate. You can see it here: https://www.facebook.com/IncredibleNaturePresent/videos/2247696422132529/
My blog fans have come to expect me to extrapolate some words of wisdom from my featured animal; a little “bon mot” life lesson to help you put your best foot forward. Today I’m inspired to say “When ya got it, flaunt it!”
Rita Goldner is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series.For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit OrangutanDay.com. Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. Works in progress: H2O Rides the Water Cycle, The Flying Artist, and Rose Colored. To view additional illustrations and Rita’s books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook. Subscribe to Rita’s newsletter, Orangutans and More! and receive a free coloring page of today’s illustration.