Blue-footed boobies are arguably the most iconic birds of the Galapagos Islands. And while they can be found along the western coasts of Central and South America, the Galapagos population accounts for around half the world’s breeding pairs, with the largest colonies on Española Island and North Seymour Island.
Even if you know nothing about this species, one thing is sure to catch your attention: its name. The world of birds is full of strange names, and “blue-footed booby” is no exception. So, why this strange nomenclature? Well, the “booby” comes from the Spanish word bobo, which means silly or foolish. This refers to the booby’s clumsiness when walking on land. Blue-footed boobies are good fliers and excellent plunge divers, but when it comes to walking along rocks and other coastal terrain, they’re not quite so elegant.
As for “blue-footed,” this refers to the bird’s webbed feet, which are indeed very blue. Male boobies display their feet to potential mates, hoping to dazzle nearby females with a high-stepping courtship routine. The bluer the feet, the better the chance of a successful conquest. Being attracted to blue feet may seem strange, but for a female booby it makes perfect sense. The blue color of a booby’s feet comes from pigments obtained from its diet of fresh fish. So a healthy, well-fed male will have the bluest feet, a positive sign for any watching females.
At night, blue-footed boobies nest on land. If they have chicks, both parents care and feed for them, and keep them warm by covering them with their webbed feet. When day breaks, the boobies fly out over the sea looking for food. They sometimes hunt in groups, looking for schools of fish. And when they spot them, they go into diving mode. They fold back their wings (the blue-footed booby has a wingspan of almost 5 feet) and shoot down towards the water like arrows, from heights of up to 100 feet.
Other Iconic Galapagos Species