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Partnerships Support Blue-Footed Booby Research

Blue-Footed Booby on Floreana Island © José María García Carrasco

Blue-footed Boobies are, without a doubt, one of the most charismatic and well-known species found in the Galápagos Archipelago. From their piercing eyes and beautiful white, brown, and black plumag to their iconic bright-blue feet, this species is hard to miss and impossible to forget. 

Despite their reputation as a rather clumsy bird on land (the name Booby is derived from the Spanish word bobo meaning foolish), they transform into sleek aerial acrobats when on the wing — plunging downwards at speeds of up to 60 mph (96.5 kmh) before diving headfirst into the ocean in pursuit of their aquatic prey.

Blue-footed Booby Dive © Sittiporn Kajornatiyudh

Blue-footed Boobies also display complex mate selection practices and courtship rituals. The blue feet that give these birds their name are used by members of both sexes when searching for the ideal mate, and the color and brightness of the Booby’s feet is a useful indicator of an individual bird’s health and vitality. Once the feet have passed the eye test, it is up to the male to court the female through an elaborate combination of singing, presenting gifts of rocks and stones, showing off his gorgeous wings, neck, and tail, and (of course) high-step marching to draw even more attention to his beautiful feet. If all goes well, the observing female will be impressed by the male’s display, and once a match is made a pair will often remain together for life. 

Unfortunately — despite these beautiful birds’ near global recognition — little research has been done to understand their population size and dynamics. However, estimates completed in 2012 and 2017 indicate that Blue-footed Booby populations in Galápagos have declined significantly since the last census was completed in the 1960s. Scientists believe that the 1997 El Niño event caused a collapse in the population of sardines — one of the Blue-footed Booby’s primary food sources — which may be the cause of this decline, as adult Boobies have resorted to consuming less nutrient-rich diets which likely limit reproductive success. Now, informal reports of rebounding sardine populations, higher rates of sardines in Booby diet samples from 2018, and observations of a higher number of juveniles in the Western Archipelago could all be indicators of a positive trend in Blue-Footed Booby population numbers. 

Blue-footed Booby and Hatchling © Mark Wilson

In 2022, Galápagos Conservancy is working with scientists — led by Dr. Kate Huyvaert of Washington State University — to firmly establish population trends, and provide concrete data to clarify the muddled picture of the status of Blue-footed Boobies in Galápagos. Dr. Huayvaert’s team will seek to complete a third survey of these incredible animals, with the aim being to establish a sound estimate of their overall population throughout Galápagos. In doing so, they will more easily be able to track the trajectory of the species in the Archipelago, information that is critical to informing conservation management decisions going forward. 

Funding critical conservation research such as this is a major priority for Galápagos Conservancy, and it is only possible through the incredible generosity of our supporters. Occasionally we also have the privilege of collaborating with partners whose passion for Galápagos mirrors our own, and whose dedication to the Archipelago’s wildlife drives them to become involved in our mission.

For this project, in particular, we were thrilled to receive financial support from two incredible partners who have a vested interest in flashy feet: 

The Blue Feet Foundation — after learning about Blue-footed Boobies in 5th grade, brothers Will and Matt took the lovable bird’s iconic look and transformed it into a comfortable and functional pair of socks. All proceeds from the sale of these socks support Blue-Footed Booby conservation. 

Le Mondeur — makers of ethically and sustainably handcrafted footwear — were inspired to design a shoe styled after the Blue-footed Boobies’ iconic feet. Upon hearing of the conservation efforts underway to preserve these beautiful birds, they committed to donating 3% of gross proceeds from pre-sale orders (presale link) of this unique art-meets fashion footwear to Galápagos Conservancy in support of our Blue-footed Booby research and conservation work. This one-time pre-order ends Thursday, April 21. The shoe will no longer be available for purchase once pre-orders close.

Thanks to these partners, and the generosity of our incredible community of supporters, we can support the work of Dr. Huayvaert and her team and ultimately support the crucial conservation work needed to maintain and restore healthy Blue-footed Booby populations in Galápagos.

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