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Blue-footed Booby Population Analysis
Dr. David Anderson, Wake Forest University, with support from the Blue Feet Foundation
Blue-footed boobies (Sula nebouxii) are iconic birds that contribute to the biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands. Toward the end of the 1990s, concerns that the booby population was declining on an archipelago-wide scale prompted a call for periodic, comprehensive studies to assess the population size, understand the cause of the decline, and inform necessary conservation actions.
In 2011, seabird biologists Dave Anderson of Wake Forest University, Kate Huyvaert of Colorado State University, and David Anchundia of the Charles Darwin Foundation, completed the first comprehensive survey of blue-footed booby distribution and population dynamics in Galapagos, with support from Galapagos Conservancy, Galapagos Conservation Trust, and Swiss Friends of Galapagos.
The team completed four intensive searches of major breeding colonies in Galapagos at four-month intervals. This was followed by a coastal survey around the entire Archipelago (except several northern islands) in 2012. In both years, few juvenile birds were observed (<100), indicating that little breeding was occurring. The estimate of the adult population was less than 6,500 birds, in comparison to 20,000-30,000 breeding birds estimated in the 1960s and 1970s.
Anecdotal sightings of more juvenile blue-footed boobies early in 2017 — the first evidence of substantial reproductive success since the 1997 El Niño — prompted a follow-up survey. In June 2017, researchers Anderson, Huyvaert, and Anchundia completed a second survey, using the same methods as in 2011-12, again with support from Galapagos Conservancy. They also collected information on the booby diet.
During the second blue-footed booby survey, the researchers observed several hundred blue-foots in the juvenile plumage of one- to two-year-olds. In comparison, in 2012, they’d seen only two. New diet analyses show weak indications of higher sardine availability, so the work continued into 2018. Even with a potential return of sardines, this population has a long way to achieve recovery to pre-1997 numbers.
This work is in part funded by The Blue Feet Foundation, an ambitious endeavor started by two young brothers in Massachusetts, who have donated $80,000 (as of November 2020) to Galapagos Conservancy since 2016 from the sale of their colorful blue-footed booby socks.
Galapagos Report 2013-14: Chronic lack of breeding by Galapagos blue-footed boobies and associated population decline – Anderson et al.
Blog Article: February 2018, Twenty years of a declining blue-footed booby population by Dave Anderson of Wake Forest University
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