The smallest of all booby species, the red-footed booby has distinctive red legs and feet (3), and a streamlined, torpedo-shaped body, well adapted for plunge-diving in search of prey. Unusually among members of the Sulidae family, the red-footed booby exists in several colour variations, or morphs, although all birds of this species have a pale blue bill (2)(3). Both sexes are similar in appearance, although the female is usually much larger than the male, while the male has a longer tail (2)(4)(5). Juveniles of this species are usually brown or blackish-grey, becoming whiter or mottled grey-brown, while the legs are usually yellowish-grey, turning more red-brown with age (2)(3).
Although the red-footed booby can fly for long distances with great ease, take-off is extremely difficult, and the bird relies heavily on the wind to attain flight. Without a breeze, the red-footed booby struggles to take to the air, half-running, half-flying to gather momentum. In the water, the red-footed booby will thrust both feet backwards simultaneously and jump forward into the wind in order to lift off from the surface (7). The red-footed booby forages mainly during the day, diving briefly beneath the waves to seize flying fish and squid (2)(4)(8). It is often seen feeding in association with other predators, such as tuna and dolphins, which herd and chase shoals of fish towards the surface (6)(7)(9). The red-footed booby will often glide long distances just above the crest of the waves, searching for patches of suitable prey (7).
The red-footed booby is a highly gregarious species, forming large breeding colonies generally between late January and September (2)(3)(5). The male red-footed booby attracts a female through an advertising display known as ‘skypointing’, where the male throws its head back until its bill is pointing directly upwards (5). The nest is built on top of a shrub or among the branches of a small tree, from twigs and sticks that are collected by the male (2)(3)(5). The female red-footed booby lays a single egg, which is incubated by both sexes for a period of around 45 days. After hatching, the young chick fledges and leaves the nest when it is around three months old (2)(3)(4).
The red-footed booby is a largely pelagic species, only coming to land to breed, finding islets with abundant vegetation on which to roost (2)(5)(6). This species is often found nesting in close association with the great frigatebird (Fregata minor) (5).
This species is not currently considered threatened by the IUCN, and the red-footed booby population is fairly widespread and abundant. However, the population is widely scattered across many islands, very few of which are protected. Several colonies have been lost in recent years due to habitat destruction, especially in the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic, and other potential threats include egg collecting, poaching, the introduction of non-native mammals such as rats which predate eggs and young, and increasing human disturbance from tourism (2).
The red-footed booby is not currently the target of any specific conservation action; however, it may benefit from measures designed to protect other species within its range. The world’s largest red-footed booby colony, for example, is found on the Galapagos Islands, a designated World Heritage Site and subject to intensive research and monitoring (10).
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Weimerskirch, H., Le Corre, M., Ropert-Coudert, Y., Kato, A. and Marsac, F. (2006) Sex-specific foraging behaviour in a seabird with reversed sexual dimorphism: the red-footed booby. Oecologia, 146: 681-691.
Nelson, J. B. (2005) Pelicans, Cormorants, and their Relatives. The Pelecaniformes. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Verner, J. (1965) Flight behaviour of the red-footed booby. The Wilson Bulletin, 77(3): 229-234.
Weimerskirch, H., Le Corre, M., Jaquemet, S. and Marsac, F. (2005) Foraging strategy of a tropical seabird, the red-footed booby, in a dynamic marine environment. Marine Ecology Press Series, 288: 251-261.
Le Corre, M. (1997) Diving depths of two tropical Pelecaniformes: the red-tailed tropicbird and the red-footed booby. TheCondor, 99: 1004-1007.
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