Standing Ovation, Please.

The Blue-footed Booby: one of the main attractions to the Galápagos.

As its’ name suggests, the Blue-footed Booby’s chief identifying feature is its bright blue feet. The name booby comes from the Spanish term bobo, which means “stupid” or “clown.” Given the bird’s clown-like behavior, it seems quite fitting.  I think the Blue-footed Booby (Sula nebouxii excisa) is, without a doubt, the most comical and charismatic of the booby species.

An estimated 20,000 pairs reside in the Galápagos Islands, which makes up approximately half of the world’s population. The Blue-footed Booby is the star performer for most visitors. Given the species’ widespread presence on the islands and fearless nature, I imagine that most, if not all, visitors to the Galápagos would be able to enjoy a relatively close encounter with the bird.

Beautiful blue feet!

Upon seeing a blue-footed booby, one’s eyes are, naturally, drawn to its dazzling blue feet. Their amusing feet and quirky courtship behavior, both favorite subjects for photographers, are inextricably linked.

The mating ritual of the Blue-footed Booby is quite entertaining, even theatrical. In an effort to attract a prospective mate, the courting display begins with a parade that is anything but ordinary.  In the opening act, the male flaunts his alluring blue feet and engages in a slow-motion dance.

Despite their gawky courtship display, Blue-footed Boobies are surprisingly graceful when fishing in a flock. They often start their dive from 15 meters or more and accelerate their dive by flying towards the water before folding their wings and becoming arrow-like.

Before you know it, each bird is swaying from side-to-side (not-so-much in harmony; more like an out-of-sync duet), raising each blue foot in a slow, deliberate stepping motion. I’m still torn as to what exactly this performance reminds me of, but it falls somewhere between an infant who has taken his first steps, but still lacks the confidence, balance and grace to be declared a full-fledged walker, and a tipsy clown staggering about in an enormous pair of shoes.

This courtship display was photographed on North Seymour Island on June 27, 2011.

Just in case a female blue-footed booby miraculously fails to notice her leading man’s astounding beauty, he will command attention by spreading his wings and stamping his feet on the stage.  The solos begin; the female ‘honks’ and the male ‘whistles.’ Soon enough, both characters engage in “sky-pointing,” an equally dramatic element of their courtship ritual.  This involves pointing their tails and beaks vertically upwards, spreading their wings and singing their respective mating songs.

Sorry, buddy. It looks like you earned the "booby prize" this round!

It is not uncommon to spot another lone male lurking backstage ardently pointing his head and tail high to the sky and throwing his wings back to show off to the very same female.  Much to his dismay, she makes her selection and procreates with the suitor of her choosing. The other accepts defeat and resumes his quest to find a mate. He puts one blue foot in front of the other and walks away…

Curtains down. Standing ovation, please.


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