Often mocked for its comical appearance, the blue-footed booby certainly has unique looks. The tropical sea bird’s head is covered in pale brown feathers streaked with white, its face is a bluish-grey color and it boasts a serrated beak that helps it to grasp its slippery prey. The blue-footed booby has white central tail feathers, white under parts and a white patch where its back meets its neck. Its wings are long, brown, pointed and span some five feet. Its most prominent feature -- bright blue webbed feet -- makes it clumsy on land but graceful in the water.
Nearly half of all breeding pairs live on the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Blue-footed boobies can also be found on coastal islands as far north as Baja California and as far south as Peru. At night they nest on land -- usually near the coastline -- and at daybreak they head out to sea.
The blue-footed booby’s awkward gait on land betrays its true grace in the air and on water. It flies over the sea with its bill pointed down scanning the surface for prey. When it spots a fish it breaks into a graceful dive with its wings partially tucked in and hit the surface with barely a splash. It pops up a few feet away with its prey held tightly in its beak. It’s the only booby that can dive down into the water while floating on the surface. On occasion, the blue-footed booby hunts in a group, following schools of fish. The first bird to spot fish will whistle to alert the others, who follow him in a synchronized dive into the water.
Their name comes from the Spanish word bobo which means “stupid fellow.” They earned the distinction because of their clumsiness on land and unwarranted bravery around humans -- leading them to be easy targets in the past. Currently, blue-footed boobies are protected on the Galapagos Islands and their numbers have reached around 40,000 breeding pairs. However, outside of the Galapagos Islands, egg collectors continue to be a minor threat to their survival.