BROWN BOOBY (Sula Leucogaster)
DESCRIPTION: The Brown Booby is a large seabird closely related to the Gannet. It is around 145 cm (4.7 ft.) long with females slightly larger than males. Adults have a white belly and some white under the wings. The rest of the plumage is dark brown. The long, pointed bill is yellow as well as the fully webbed feet. They have a bare patch of blue skin near and around the eye. Juveniles are brown overall, including the belly, which sometimes can be mottled brown and white.
NAME: The name ‘Booby’ is from the Spanish word ‘bobo’, which means ‘stupid’. The bird was thus called because it is unafraid of humans, both in its colonies and when perching on ships. The French name ‘Fou brun’ reflects this trait as well. The Latin genus name ‘Sula’ comes from Norwegian and means ‘gannet’, and ‘Leucogaster’ means ‘white stomach’.
HABITAT: Open seas when not breeding.
DIET: This seabird feeds on fish and squid near the water surface. It hunts them by dive-bombing from a height that can reach up to 20 meters (65 ft.) but does not swim under water like gannets.
NESTING: The brown booby nests in colonies on rugged, difficult to access small oceanic islands. Some colonies can reach thousands of individuals if nearby food is abundant. The nest is a shallow depression on the ground and is lined with vegetation from land or from the sea. Two eggs are laid, but the older chick may push the younger one out of the nest to its eventual death.
DISTRIBUTION: Brown boobies are found mainly in the Caribbean Sea and around the Bahamas, and in the eastern Pacific ocean along Mexico and the Bay of California. They are year-round residents around Hawaii.
ON PEI: There were no known records of brown booby observations on Prince Edward Island until an individual was observed on the ferry from Cariboo, NS, to Wood Islands, PEI, on Sunday night Oct. 7, 2018. It spent the night on PEI and then went back the following morning on the ferry to Cariboo. See photos below taken by Megan Thorne on the ferry.
CONSERVATION: The Brown Booby is currently considered as ‘least concern’ but its numbers have declined in the Caribbean due to development. In the past it was hunted for food by seamen and its eggs were collected. Introduction of species such as rats also impacted the nesting colonies.
NOTES: Although an agile flyer, this seabird is clumsy on land and also when taking off and landing. It often uses winds or perches for the latter.
In the Oxford Dictionary, there are entries from as far back as the 1600s depicting the Brown Booby as ‘stupid’ because it was unafraid of sailors when landing on their ships: “One of the Saylers espying a Bird fitly called a Booby, hee mounted to the top-mast and tooke her. The foolish quality of which Bird is to sit still, not valuing danger.”
Also because of that habit of perching on ships, boobies are mentioned as a source of food for shipwrecked sailors, such as the Bounty.