Boobies, Frigatebirds and Tropicbirds

This seabird photo album comprises images of Boobies and Frigatebirds (Sulidae), and Tropicbirds (Phaethontidae) photographed in pelagic and coastal habitat. See Taxonomy note at the end of this page. The first gallery features portraits of several species from booby, frigatebird and tropicbird families, while 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 mainly 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. Frigatebirds, on the other hand, can’t 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 rather fortunate to photograph an adult bird that visited to attend to its young.

Booby Behaviours

Booby Behaviour Notes

The first three images are Red-footed Booby colour morphs preening. These are one of the most polymorphic seabirds, with three recognised adult plumage types: white, white-tailed brown and brown together with several intermediates. Not all birds fit into the recognised colour morphs types. Displayed images include white, intermediate, and brown morphs, albeit that the white has a brown tail, possibly better described as a black-tailed white morph. I’ve added more images and information, in the photo essay below, about red-footed booby polymorphism in the Galapagos.

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, where there is a Blue-footed Booby nesting site, for the eradication of 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. Two galleries below include photo essays of Nazca booby nesting colonies at Espanola and Genovesa Islands.

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 what seemed to be 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 flying through 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, basically an opening in the lava, with a young individual inside.

Red-footed Booby (Genovesa Colony) Photo Essay

Red-footed Booby (Genovesa Colony) Photo Essay Notes

Several Red-footed Booby images show behaviours such as incubating eggs, preening and gathering nest material, unlike Blue-footed and Nazca Boobies that nest on the ground, Red-footed Boobies nest in trees.

On most islands around the world, the predominant colour morph is 95% white with white-tailed brown morphs accounting for the other 5%. On Genovesa and Wolf islands in the Galapagos, Red-Footed Boobies morphs exhibit reverse ratio with about 90% brown and only 10% white. I’ve included images of several coloured morphs. Most of my photos were brown morphs with just a few intermediate and white. Unfortunately, the tail is not visible in one white morph image; this individual seemed much whiter than other white morphs I photographed.

Nazca Booby (Espanola Colony) Photo Essay

Nazca Booby (Espanola Colony) Photo Essay Notes

Espanola was the first Nazca Booby nesting site I visited in the Galapagos. The first image in the sequence shows an adult on a ground nest, made from twigs and stone, incubating eggs: both male and female share brooding and feeding duties. The next two images feature an adult with its vulnerable chick and a check being feed.

The final sequence of five images shows the female with her chick; the male arrived with a twig offering in its bill; then the male made a small stone offering, and the final image shows bill-touching greeting ceremony.

Nazca Booby (Genovesa Colony) Photo Essay

Nazca Booby (Genovesa Colony) Photo Essay Notes

Darwin Bay on Genovesa Island was the second of three Nazca booby nesting sites I visited in the Galapagos. The first image shows an adult tending two eggs laid on a ground nest made from twigs and small stones. I photographed the remaining images at the third site I visited: Prince Philip Steps (El Barranco) on Genovesa Island. The second image depicts the Nazca Booby’s strategy of laying two eggs but only raise one chick. If both eggs hatch, then the older chick would commit siblicide. Red-footed Boobies only lay one egg while Blue-footed Boobies lay two to three eggs and raise more than one chick.

When I processed the second image, I noticed dark patches on the bird’s neck. These are blood-feeding ectoparasites (Olfersia aenescens) a species of Hippoboscid flies (Hippoboscidae family). On close examination of several other images, I found that these parasitic flies are on many of the Nazca Boobies often buried in the feathers, the third image is a close-up of the infected birds head and neck.

The final series of images depict behaviours such as a chick/young-juvenile with no parent in attendance. A dead chick possibly left alone in the hot sun; the risks associated with only raising one offspring. An adult shading a young bird from the tropical sun. And finally, a sequence of three showing an adult feeding a chick/young-juvenile bird.

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.