Abbott's booby (Papasula abbotti)

Spanish: Alcatraz de Abbott, Piquero de Abbott
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPelecaniformes
FamilySulidae
GenusPapasula (1)
SizeLength: 79 cm (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and listed on Appendix 1 of CITES (3).

Abbott's booby is a large slender-bodied, black-and-white seabird. The head, neck and underparts are white whilst the black upperwing has white flecking and a narrow white leading edge (4). The white lower back and rump are blotched with black and the pointed tail is also black (5). In juveniles the wing and tail are brown in colour (2). In males the bill is a vivid blue-grey, tipped with black (5), whereas in the female it is pink and also tipped with black (5). Both sexes have deep grey legs and feet (4).

Believed to be previously widespread in the Indian Ocean, although breeding is restricted to Christmas Island. Long absences from the island suggest that foraging may occur far from this area and sightings have recently been reported off Java and northwest Australia (5).

Foraging occurs in the waters of the Indian Ocean, whilst breeding is in rainforest on the plateau and higher terraces of Christmas Island (5). Nests are constructed in tall, emergent rainforest trees (6), especially those with access from the northwest into the prevailing wind (5). Trees preferentially have an open canopy and interwoven terminal growth, which helps to support juveniles (5).

Abbott's booby pairs stay together through successive seasons and nest colonially between April and October (5). A single egg is laid into a nest constructed from leafy twigs and both parents take it in turns to incubate the egg during the 56 day period; much longer than for other members of this family (6). Breeding occurs from about eight years of age and life expectancy may be up to 40 years (4). Breeding success averages around 30 percent and one pair will rear roughly two offspring every 9.5 years (5).

These seabirds feed on fish and squid (4), presumably by plunge diving (5). Adults return to feed their young in the late afternoon and early evening (5), and it is likely that Abbott's boobies rely on cold upwellings near to Christmas Island where there is a seasonal abundance of food (6).

Phosphate mining on Christmas Island in the 1960s and 70s caused the destruction of a third of Abbott's booby nesting habitat and has led to the subsequent deterioration of the remaining forest (4). Birds are strongly attached to nest sites, and clearings are more exposed to wind turbulence, which has a detrimental effect on breeding success and causes higher adult mortality (6). Recent development proposals for the island have again raised concern over the viability of remaining breeding habitat (5).

The majority of Abbott's booby nest sites occur within the Christmas Island National Park, which was established in 1980 and covers 63 percent of the island (6). Nest site locations are monitored and the regeneration of previously cleared forest has occurred on much of the island (5). Although mining was resumed in 1990, it only involved the reworking of previously mined areas (6). The continued preservation, and ban on clearing, of the unique Christmas Island rainforest will be the key to the future viability of the Abbott's booby population (5).

For further information on the Abbott’s booby see:

Authenticated (21/10/02) by Max Orchard, Environment Australia.
http://www.ea.gov.au/index.html

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Erritzoe, J. (1993) The Birds of CITES and How to Identify Them. The Lutterworth Press, Cambridge.
  3. CITES (April, 2008)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. BirdLife International. (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge.
  5. Orchard, M. (2002) Pers. comm.
  6. Department of the Environment and Heritage. (2004) National Recovery Plan for the Abbott’s Booby Papsasula abbotti. Department of the Environment and Heritage, Canberra. Available at:
    http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/recovery/abbotts-booby/index.html#download