Beak of the Week – Brown Booby

Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster)

Family: Sulidae

✏️ By Hope Caliendo, Conservation Technician, Houston Audubon

Brown Boobies are a rarity in the United States, but they can occasionally be seen along the Bolivar Peninsula and can stray as far north as Canada. Their typical range revolves around tropical oceans worldwide where they are seen maneuvering swiftly through the air before making steep dives. Adult Brown Boobies showcase creamy yellow feet with a white belly and brown plumage on the head, breast and back. Their dagger-like bill appears mostly light pink with yellow and blue seen near the base. Webbing connects the Brown Booby’s four toes for “totipalmate” feet. In addition, a serrated “preen-claw” can be found on their middle toe which they use to spread waterproofing oil through their feathers during preening. With the exception of male boobies along the American Pacific coast which have a light gray-white head, the sexes are generally monomorphic in plumage. Brown Boobies first breed at the age of 2-3 years and the oldest recorded individual was 26 years old.

When not at sea, Brown Boobies can be found nesting in colonies on tropical islands free from predators. Coral atolls are a favorite, but they will also nest on rocky cliffs, sandy beaches, and every so often on hillsides. With a diet of mainly fish and squid, Brown Boobies soar along open ocean before rapidly diving with assistance from their aerodynamic narrow wings and long tail. They will often dive several times in succession and tend to swallow their prey before even reaching the water’s surface. When prey is great and highly concentrated, Brown Boobies will feed in flocks; however, they are also seen feeding alone and in flocks of other seabird species. Boobies can rest on the water when far offshore and will return to land or manmade perches to rest when inshore. 

Greg Lavaty
Greg Lavaty
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