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The nearest relative to any of the boobies which can be see in northern hemisphere waters (Atlantic only) is the Northern Gannet. Aside from the Sea of Cortez in Mexican waters where occasional Blue-footed Booby sightings are recorded, we rarely see any booby on the west (Pacific) coast. The Brown Booby is in the Virgin Islands and wanders northward – but none of the Galapagos boobies are expected in the US.
The Galapagos Islands have many unique animals; mostly reptiles and birds. The mockingbirds, finches, tortoises, and iguanas get a lot of press but the single albatross and three booby species present in the archipelago are sort of next in line. The Lava Lizards are also island-adapted but not mentioned very often at all. And plants, especially the Scalesia “trees” (those giant daisies) have “speciated” as they have adapted to different islands as well. Remoteness does interesting things to organisms. You can read about island evolution and biogeography in the next blog page which will look at some books that detail these happenings.
But let’s look at the boobies. In the Galapagos there are three species of boobies that you can expect too see; Blue-footed, Nazca, and Red-footed. The Blue-footed Booby is the most easily seen as they are on most of the islands and tend to feed by diving into nearshore waters. As a visitor we are almost always in these nearshore waters and this increases our chances of close encounters with the blue-foots. All boobies are about the size of a Canada Goose, maybe a bit smaller, but not much smaller. They are streamlined and have a solid pointy bill – this makes a high-speed diving entry into the water relatively safe. The Blue-footeds are a brown bird with a white belly and a mottled head and neck and very blue feet.
The Nazca Booby (below) is the largest of the archipelago’s boobies and is most often seen on its favored guano-covered roosting rocks. Like most of the larger island birds they prefer to jump off a promontory into the wind to get airborne. They all can take off from land (excepting the Waved Albatross perhaps) and also from the ocean surface, it is just easier to fall into the wind and sail away.
The third booby of the Galapagos is the Red-footed. This is the smallest of the boobies and one that actually has two color morphs; a brown phase and a white phase. They are spread around the world but do not nest near the USA. There are colonies near the Yucatan and off the Mexican coast. In the Galapagos they are mostly of the brown morph and have several unusual characteristics.