Boobies in the Galapagos

Where in the world are all the boobies…? Well, half of them are in the Galápagos Islands. Out of the six booby species in the world, three nest here in the archipelago.

Where do boobies get their name?

The bizarre name may come from the Spanish, from the word “bobo” which means dumb. They say the Spaniards thought them easy to catch when they landed on their boats. In the Galapagos Islands, they are certainly very tame. But everything is tame in the Galápagos, and you will actually find that boobies, in particular, are quick as darts when they need to be.

Dive-bombing boobies.

Boobies are clumsy on land. They are, of course, a common sight at their nesting grounds, where you can see hundreds of individuals wobbling around to get from one place to another. When they get airborne, however, the story changes. They are elegant and controlled, swift and without a doubt among the best divers in the world.

Galapagos is an excellent place to witness the booby’s diving rituals, especially the Blue-footed boobies, which gather in great numbers rising some 80 feet in the air, then proceeding to plummet into the ocean in what seems like a synchronized bombing attack. They rip through the ocean’s surface beak first and are able to dive up to 3 meters under to catch their fish, which they can pinpoint from the air with astounding accuracy. If one booby misses its catch, a second one will come right behind to grab it. The drama and spectacle are mind-blowing.

Red-footed boobies, blue-footed boobies and Nazca boobies

Boobies quickly become a favorite of most travelers visiting the Galapagos Islands. The most common species, the Blue-footed Booby, is quite the celebrity due to its out-of-this-world sky-blue feet. The color actually seems to sparkle against the sunlight.

A second species, the Red-footed Booby, as the name suggests, has bright red feet and is much less common. Your Galapagos tour can take you to eastern San Cristóbal or Genovesa to ensure you see it. There are two morphs of the species, one displaying whitish plumage and another displaying more brownish plumage on the body, with quite a beautiful beak to fit, blending pastel hues of pink and blue.

Finally, the Nazca Booby, which has uninteresting black or dark gray feet, is the largest species, and is still quite dapper, with its elegant snowy-white plumage, contrasting black wing feathers and a bright golden-yellow bill.

Boobie behavior: Duels and Dances

Day tours and cruise tours in the Galapagos allow visitors to come within meters of boobie nests. Up close you can witness some of their fascinating, if not bizarre, behaviors and rituals.

In the case of the Nazca Booby, inbred fighting is a heartless act of self-preservation that results in the death of the weakest sibling. The epitome of natural selection.

The most sought-after experience is not heart-breaking at all, but uplifting and even comical: the Blue-footed Booby’s courtship dance, which is, as a recent meme pointed out, “the best thing ever”

As the bird struts to some inaudible beat, it raises one beautiful bright blue foot at a time, fanning it in front of its mate as if flaunting new shoes. It combines these moves with contorted poses, Pina-Bausch-style, until the female decides to join in… A true spectacle to behold.

This National Geographic video shows a male Blue-Footed Boobie doing all he can to woo his lady friend and fight off competitor.

If you were ever curious as to what a booby, the bird, looks like, well, now you know what to do: book a Galapagos tour!


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