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What is a Red-Footed Booby?

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  • Written By: Angie Bates
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2016
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A red-footed booby is a non-migratory seabird that lives in tropical areas near the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans and spends most of its time at sea. These birds nest on volcanic islands and coral atolls, and many are found in the Galapagos Islands and on the Hawaiian Islands. The red-foot is one of 10 booby species. Boobies gained their common name because of the ease of catching them while they are asleep. The scientific name for the red-footed booby is Sula sula.

The red-footed booby is the smallest species of booby. These birds grow to be 23-30 inches (64-76 cm) long and weigh 30-39 ounces (850-1,100 g). They have an average wingspan of 4.5 feet (1.4 m). As strong fliers, they can fly more than 90 miles (145 km) without resting. When not flying, these birds often perch in trees and have been known to land on boats.

They are usually brown, but red-footed boobies can be many colors, or color morphs. Red-foots that are white and black are sometimes mistaken for masked boobies. They are always identifiable, however, by their bright red webbed feet and their pointed gray or blue bill. Juvenile red-foots are also usually brown, but they have lighter bellies and are darker under their wings. The booby's calls are squawks and screeches.

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Red-footed boobies are social birds, feeding and living in large groups, or colonies. Unlike other booby species, they make their nests in shrubs or small trees. Boobies live more than 20 years but lay only one egg during mating season. Both parents take care of the resulting hatchling, which is born without feathers and matures slowly.

An agile bird with keen eyesight, the red-footed booby can grab airborne flying fish, though it often eats nonflying fish and squid as well. To obtain its food, it will dive from the air, sometimes from as high as 98 feet (30 m), and then swim in the water to capture its prey. The red-foot does not carry its catch elsewhere to eat it. Instead, the bird will eat its food in the water before taking off again. To aid in its diving, the booby's nostrils are closeable, and its wings and tail are pointed.

As of 2010, the red-footed booby was considered common. There was evidence, however, that the species was declining because of human encroachment on its food sources and breeding grounds. Red-footed boobies are also occasionally poached for food.

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