Blue-footed boobies can be found from the Gulf of California south along the western coasts of Central and South America to Peru. However, about half of all breeding pairs nest on the Galápagos Islands, which makes the archipelago a unique place to meet these bizarre birds. Probably the most entertaining animal you’ll see in the Galapagos, Blue-footed boobies can be found on the Islands of North Seymour, Espanola, Fernandina, Floreana, Isabela, Pinzon, San Cristobal, Genovesa, Sombrero Chino and Santa Cruz. All over the archipelago! Their name in English derives from the Spanish word “bobo” which means fool or clown and refers to their clumsy movement on land. Boobies are also called “piqueros” (Spanish for the way they dive).
There are six species of boobies on earth and blue-footed boobies are one of three booby species found on the Galapagos. The other two being the Nazca booby and the red-footed booby. The blue-footed is the most distinguishable of the species with its bright turquoise-blue feet. Males take great pride in their brightly coloured feet and during mating rituals, they will show off their feet to prospective mates with a high-stepping strut. The bluer the feet, the more attractive the mate. The source of the booby’s blue feet is their diet of fresh fish. More specifically, it comes from carotenoid pigments obtained from their diet. These pigments are concentrated in their feet, making them appear blue in colour. The concentration of these pigments determines the strength of the colour of the feet, with higher concentrations making the feet a more intense shade of blue. Scientists have shown that the brighter the feet are, the healthier the bird is. So, by choosing a mate with the bluest feet, the females are selecting well-nourished and healthy partners.
Like other boobies, blue feet nest on land at night. When day breaks, they take to the air in search of seafood. Despite their clumsiness on land, boobies are extremely agile in the air. They fly out to sea while keeping a keen eye out for schools of small fish, such as anchovies. When their prey is in sight, these seabirds utilize the physical adaptations that make them exceptional divers. They fold their long wings back around their streamlined bodies and plunge into the water from as high as 80 feet. They have air sacks in their skulls that help with the impact. The bird hits the water with immense force, reaching speeds of up to 60 miles per hour! Blue-footed boobies can also dive from a sitting position on the water’s surface.
Blue-footed boobies are known for their courtship behaviours, 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. After mating, clutches of two to three eggs are laid directly on the ground, and both parents take turns incubating the eggs. Several breeding pairs nest together, forming very large breeding colonies. After hatching, both parents continue to care for the chicks, so they must make daily feeding trips during that time. This likely contributes to the nesting sites being close to feeding areas. The first chick to emerge gets most of the parents’ attention and is often the only chick to survive.
Blue-footed boobies have no natural predators on land and few natural predators at sea. Furthermore, they are naturally quite curious. Therefore, they typically do not become alarmed if approached by people on land, and they often land on boats to explore people while at sea. So, if you decide to travel to the Archipelago, you will be able to meet the unofficial mascot of the Galapagos up close and personal!