(26-30 inches, 66-77 cm) it is the same general size as Brown booby.
Has relatively longer tail than other boobies. Comes in several color
morphs, white, brown, white-tailed brown,
and white-tailed/white-headed. Typically several morphs nest in
the same colony. The brown
morph is the most common in our region. Because of adult plumage
variation individual birds are easily confused with Brown or Masked
boobies. Red feet and legs of adults are distinctive.
Sexes alike, no
seasonal plumage variation. Females larger than males. Polymorphic,
with different morphs often forming mixed pairs. Reach breeding age in
3-4 years. Live 20+ years, perhaps much longer.
brown with yellowish-grey legs and feet. In all color morphs streaked
brownish at fledgling. Immatures also presents confusing plumage
patterns when in transition to various adult color morphs.
French: Fou à pieds rouges
Spanish: Bubia pices rojos
Smallest of the
six species of boobies. Three subspecies recognized, nominate is found
in Atlantic basin. Size differences main distinguishing feature, while
color morph distribution is not generally influenced by subspecific
designations or geography.
sparsely forested islands within general breeding range. Dispersed out
to sea by day, birds do not necessarily roost on natal islands.
Non-breeding individuals often roots in colonies of other seabird
Of the three species in the region,
this booby has the most restricted marine and breeding distribution in
our region with both adults and immatures remaining in the proximity of
nesting sites throughout the year. The Red-footed Booby is the least
likely to occur as a vagrant and does not seem to often be displaced by
hurricanes. Primarily in area of occurrence are its breeding islands
adjacent to the Caribbean Sea, but also off Brazil at South Trinidade
and Ferando de Noronha. Generally rare to absent from Gulf of Mexico,
rare vagrant to Atlantic coast of Southeastern United States. Absent from Bermuda
and known from only one small colony in the Bahamas.
Other subspecies occur in the tropical Pacific, and Indian Oceans and on islands in the seas north of Australia.
They feed by plunge diving, feeding mostly on flying fish and
squid. As in the other boobies because of their feeding behavior they
would all seem to be a prime species for by-catch of the long line
industry. Currently no reports, but this may be based on
misidentification with gannets which are reported as by-catch species.
Largest eye of any booby; may be linked to partially nocturnal habits.
At the nest
This booby builds nests in trees and shrubs, but when
they are not available (destruction of island plant communities by
goats for example) they will nest on the ground. October to May is the
general breeding season in the West Indies. Adult’s soft part breeding
colors fade after onset of nesting. Nearly all birds return to natal
islands to breed. One bird of pair remains with nest to prevent removal
of nest material by other boobies and frigates. Circular stick nest.
Single egg. Incubation 42-46 days, fledging 91-112 days. Young return
to nest site for 1-4 months and continue to be fed by adults.
population: 12,710 pairs although many islands have not been surveyed recently.
US Virgin Islands
British Virgin Islands
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago
Mexico (Campeche Bank)
population is of conservation concern, few nesting sites are protected,
and loss of one or two of the currently key breeding sites would
represent a large segment of the region’s population. Continuing to
decline at most sites that have recently been resurveyed. This species
needs to be monitored. The Little Cayman population
protected as a Ramsar Site and the size of that colony is increasing. Had been reduced by fishermen to
fewer than 100 pairs by 1990. Other populations have experienced
Loss of nesting habitat, and disturbance at nests is a major concern.
Feral goats and other introduced stock have destroyed vegetation on
many nesting islands. Harvesting wood for charcoal and firewood is an
issue for sites near inhabited islands. Vegetation removal caused
secondary erosion issues.
Birds are tolerant of short term visits of small numbers of people to nesting islands. Other than random inventory most research on this species has been conducted outside the region.
Major colonies need full protection, monitoring during nesting season, and enforcement.
When censuring colonies from a distance be aware that the lighter
colored morph are more conspicuous and tend to be over represented in
final tally. Many birds are not perched in the crowns of the vegetation
and may be difficult to detect. Check for nests as groups of tree
roosting birds do not always signify breeding sites.
Bradley, P. E. 1996. Report from the Cayman Islands. El Pitirre. 9: 8-9.
Clapp, R. B. 1987. The status of the Red-footed Booby on Little Cayman Island. Atoll Research Bulletin 304.
A. W. 1980. The Red-footed Booby colony on Little Cayman: size,
structure, and significance. Atoll Research Bulletin 241: 165-170.
E. A. 2000. Status of Red-footed, Brown and Masked Boobies in the West
Indies. Pages 46-57 in E. A. Schreiber and D. S. Lee (eds.). Status and
Conservation of West Indian Seabirds. Society of Caribbean Ornithology,
Special Publication Number 1. 225 pp.
Schreiber, E. A., R. W.
Schreiber and G. A. Schenk 1996. Red-footed Booby (Sula sula). In A.
Poole and F. Gill (eds.). The Birds of North America, Philadelphia, The
Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C., The American
Ornithologists’ Union No. 241.
Tunnell, J. W. and B. R.
Chapman. 1988. First record of Red-footed Boobies nesting in the Gulf
of Mexico. American Birds 43: 380-381.
Verner, J. 1961. Nesting activities of the Red-footed Booby. Wilson Bulletin 77: 229-234.
White, A. W., B. Hallett, and M. Bainton. 1995. Red-footed Boobies nest at White Cay, San Salvador. El Pitirre 8: 13.
Indian Breeding Seabird Atlas by Will
Mackin and David Lee is licensed
under a Creative
Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
License. Based on
work at www.wicbirds.net.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.wicbirds.net.
Citation: Lee, D. S., W. A. Mackin. 2009. Red-footed Booby. West Indian
Breeding Seabird Atlas
<http://www.wicbirds.net/rfbo.html>. Last Updated: _____.
Date accessed: ______.