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Blue-footed Booby (Sula nebouxii) -one leg raised.jpg
Blue-footed booby displaying by raising a foot
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Suliformes
Family: Sulidae
Genus: Sula
Brisson, 1760
Type species
Pelecanus leucogaster
Boddaert, 1783

For fossil species, see text.

A booby is a seabird in the genus Sula, part of the Sulidae family. Boobies are closely related to the gannets (Morus), which were formerly included in Sula.

Systematics and evolution

The genus Sula was introduced by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760.[1] The type species is the brown booby.[2] The name is derived from súla, the Old Norse and Icelandic word for the other member of the family Sulidae, the gannet.[3]

The English name "booby" was possibly based on the Spanish slang term bobo, meaning "stupid",[4] as these tame birds had a habit of landing on board sailing ships, where they were easily captured and eaten. Owing to this, boobies are often mentioned as having been caught and eaten by shipwrecked sailors, notably William Bligh of the Bounty and his adherents during their famous voyage after being set adrift by Fletcher Christian and his followers.

Six of the ten extant Sulidae species called boobies are in the genus Sula, while the three gannet species are usually placed in the genus Morus.[5] Abbott's booby was formerly included in Sula but is now placed in a monotypic genus Papasula, which represents an ancient lineage perhaps closer to Morus.

Some authorities consider that all ten species should be considered congeneric in Sula. However, they are readily distinguished by means of osteology. The distinct lineages of gannets and boobies are known to have existed in such form, since at least the Middle Miocene, c.15 mya.[6]

The fossil records of boobies are not as well documented as those of the gannets; possibly because the species of boobies were less numerous in the late Miocene to Pliocene, when gannets had their highest diversity or because of the more tropical distribution of boobies, many fossil species have simply not been found yet, as most localities are in continental North America or Europe.

Extant species

Image Scientific name Common Name Distribution
Starr 080606-6808 Coronopus didymus.jpg Sula dactylatra masked booby Worldwide tropics
Ave en las islas Galápagos.jpg Sula granti Nazca booby Eastern Pacific from the islands in Baja California to the Galapagos islands and the Isla de la Plata in Ecuador and Malpelo in Colombia – vagrant to northern Pacific as far as Alaska
Weißbauchtoelpel.jpg Sula leucogaster brown booby Worldwide tropics
Piquero patiazul (Sula nebouxii), isla Lobos, islas Galápagos, Ecuador, 2015-07-25, DD 60.JPG Sula nebouxii blue-footed booby Gulf of California down along the western coasts of Central and South America down to Chile – vagrant to British Columbia, Texas
Red-footed Booby Sula sula by Dr. Raju Kasambe Best DSC 6119 (10).jpg Sula sula red-footed booby Worldwide tropics – vagrant to north of range as far as Alaska
Sula variegata02.JPG Sula variegata Peruvian booby Ecuador, Peru, Chile – vagrant to Panama


Boobies hunt fish by diving from a height into the sea and pursuing their prey underwater. Facial air sacs under their skin cushion the impact with the water. Boobies are colonial breeders on islands and coasts. They normally lay one or more chalky-blue eggs on the ground or sometimes in a tree nest. Selective pressures, likely through competition for resource, have shaped the ecomorphology and foraging behaviours of the six species of boobies in the Pacific. [7]


  1. ^ Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie, ou, Méthode contenant la division des oiseaux en ordres, sections, genres, especes & leurs variétés (in French and Latin). Volume 1. Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. Vol. 1 p. 60, Vol. 6 p.494.
  2. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Cottrell, G. William, eds. (1979). Check-list of Birds of the World. Volume 1 (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 181.
  3. ^ "Sula, n.". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ "booby, n.". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Friesen, V. L.; Anderson, D. J.; Steeves, T.E.; Jones, H.; Schreiber, E.A. (2002). "Molecular support for species status of the Nazca Booby". The Auk. 119 (3): 820–826. doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2002)119[0820:MSFSSO]2.0.CO;2.
  6. ^ Olson, Storrs L. "The Fossil Record of Birds (Section X.G.5.a Sulidae)". In Farner, D.S.; King, D.S.; Parkes, K.C. (eds.). Avian Biology. Volume 8. New York: Academic Press. pp. 79–238 [203–204].
  7. ^ van Oordt, F.; Torres-Mura, J. C.; Hertel, F. (2018). "Ecomorphology and foraging behaviour of Pacific boobies". Ibis. 160 (2): 313–326. doi:10.1111/ibi.12545.

External links