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Aquarium of the Pacific - Online Learning Center - Species Print Sheet

Conservation Status:  Least concern

Land & Aquatic SpeciesRed-Footed Booby

Sula sula Birds

Red Footed Booby | Robin Riggs
Red Footed Booby - popup
Robin Riggs

Species In-Depth | Print full entry

At the Aquarium

Sula is an Aquarium animal ambassador and makes appearances at meet-and-greet sessions.

Geographic Distribution

Red-footed boobies are found globally in subtropical and tropical coastal areas including oceanic islands. The Galapagos Islands have one of the largest populations.

Habitat

These birds live in colonies near lagoons and coral reefs and build their nests in tree tops or low shrubs.

Physical Characteristics

Sula sula is the smallest species of booby. This species has a tapering, long, blue-and-pinkish-colored bill with serrated edges to help catch and eat prey. The external nostrils close when plunge-diving, with secondary nostrils on each side of the mouth that are covered by skin when it dives. The facial skin is typically bare. The booby’s eyes are beside the bill on each side of its head. This bird has strong neck muscles, long pointed wings that are rather far back on the body, and a wedge-shaped tail. It has short, strong legs with large, webbed, red feet set further back on the body. Extensions of the lung passages have developed into a series of air sacs which make the bird very buoyant. This bird’s underside is typically beige or white with darker coloration on its back. The feathers are continuously molted, except during breeding season, and are renewed one or two times yearly.

Size

Red-footed boobies grow 27 to 28 inches (70 to 71 centimeters) in average length, with a 36- to 40-inch (90 to 101 centimeters) wingspan. Males are typically slightly smaller than females.

Diet

Red-footed boobies feed on fish. They may travel up to 93 miles (150 kilometers) in search of prey. They plunge-dive to catch their prey.

Reproduction

Red-footed boobies reach sexual maturity at age two to three years. Breeding is not seasonal. They typically mate once every fifteen months depending on the food supply. Being highly social birds, they perform ritualized courtship and mating behavior by showing off their wings and feet and display posturing. “Bill-up-face-away” posture is displayed. Males display with their beaks, tails, and wings facing upward and call for mates. Once a monogamous pair mates, they return to the same nest year after year. After mating the female lays one egg. Incubation lasts from forty-one to forty-five days, with the young fledging as young as ninety-one days. If food is scarce, for instance during an El Niño, fledging may occur at 139 days or more.

Behavior

Red-footed boobies are colonial and highly social birds. They do not migrate. They are typically active during the day, but have been known to feed at night when squid come to the surface of the ocean.

Adaptation

Plumage is molted continuously so the bird will have constant flight capability. Plumage helps to maintain body temperature. Long, pointed wings help the bird to fly in high winds by alternating gliding and powerful flaps.

Longevity

Red-footed boobies may live up to forty years.

Conservation

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the red-footed booby as a species of Least Concern.

This bird faces threats from habitat loss, including deforestation, and overfishing decreasing their available prey.