Boobies, Frigatebirds and Tropicbirds

This seabird photo album comprises Boobies and Frigatebirds (Sulidae) and Tropicbirds (Phaethontidae) photographed in pelagic and coastal habitats. See the Taxonomy note at the end of this page. The first gallery features portraits of several species from booby, frigatebird, and tropicbird families. In contrast, subsequent galleries display photo essays and behaviours.

Boobies, Frigatebirds and Tropicbirds

Booby, Frigatebird and Tropicbird Notes

All featured species are ‘Red List 2019’ assessed as ‘Least Concern’.

Boobies, frigatebirds, and tropicbirds are marine and pelagic pantropical birds. Found in tropical and subtropical oceans. They come ashore, usually on islands, to breed and raise their young.

Both boobies and tropicbirds dive into the sea for food and drink salt water. On the other hand, Frigatebirds cannot land on water as their feathers are not waterproof, and they drink fresh water by scooping it up with their bill. They feed in flight by harassing other seabirds to regurgitate or drop their catch, which frigatebird then swoop down to take and eat it. They also fly near the ocean surface to catch fish that jump out of the water. Frigatebirds can remain at sea for weeks or even months at a time.

Apart from the White-tailed Tropicbird, I photographed all the other birds in the Galapagos. Great Frigatebird images are of individuals in their nesting sites. The magnificent frigatebirds often perched on or flew alongside our boat. A cactus plant concealed a well-hidden, Red-billed Tropicbird chick. I was fortunate to photograph an adult bird that visited to attend its young.

Booby Behaviours

Booby Behaviour Notes

The first three images are Red-footed Booby colour morphs preening. These are among the polymorphic seabirds, with three recognised adult plumage types: white, white-tailed brown and brown, and several intermediates. Furthermore, not all birds fit into the recognised colour morph types. Displayed images include white, intermediate, and brown morphs. The white has a brown tail, better described as a black-tailed white morph.

Blue-footed Booby comes from the Spanish name bobo, which means stupid. They practice ritualised displays and greeting ceremonies such as a bill-touching ceremony featured in a couple of images in the gallery. Unfortunately, the National Parks closed North Seymour, a Blue-footed Booby nesting site, to eradicate invasive rodents. Hence, our tour company cancelled our planned visit to the island. I photographed Blue-footed Boobies on several other islands.

This gallery features three images of Nazca boobies, a juvenile on the sea and adults preening and flying.

Galapagos Booby Breeding Colonies

There are six booby species, three species: Nazca, red-footed and blue-footed boobies breed in the Galápagos.

Nazca Boobies (Sula granti) female and chick with the male making a small stone offering at Espanola Island

Nazca Booby – Espanola Breeding Colony

The Nazca booby has a restricted range in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, with the main breeding colonies in the Galápagos. These large seabirds nest on the ground in large colonies on several islands in the archipelago, including Española. Further, the photo essay page link features the behaviours of the birds breeding at Punta Suarez.

Red-footed and Nazca Boobies – Genovesa Breeding Colonies

Red-footed boobies are pantropical, with the largest breeding colony on Genovesa Island in the Galápagos. Also, they are polymorphic seabirds that build nests from twigs and sticks in shrubs or small trees. Further, the photo essay page link displays the birds breeding behaviours and an additional photo essay of Nazca booby behaviours on Genovesa.

Frigatebird and Tropicbird Behaviours


Frigatebird and Tropicbird Behaviour Notes

Great and Magnificent Frigatebirds are similar in size and appearance but do exhibit some plumage dimorphism.

My key identifiers for Great Frigatebird males are their overall brownish-black appearance with a green sheen. And for females, the red eye-ring, while for Magnificent Frigatebird males, it’s the overall blacker appearance with slight purple sheen and for females the Blue-grey Eye-ring.

I photographed the Great Frigatebird male in breeding plumage and two juveniles displaying aggressive behaviour at their nesting sites on Genovesa Island. Two Magnificent Frigatebirds images show them flying at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. One diving down towards the sea in the harbour. And another passing flying the fish market to try and steal fish.

I visited two nesting sites on Genovesa; at both, I photographed Red-billed Tropicbird chicks. The images in the gallery show an underground nesting site, an opening in the lava, with a young individual inside.

Boobies, Frigatebirds and Tropicbirds Taxonomy

The Seabirds Photo Album webpage describes the higher-level taxonomy for these families. Boobies and Frigatebirds (Sulidae) and Tropicbirds (Phaethontidae) are part of the Suliformes, placed in Aequornithes (Core Waterbirds) clade.