Blue-footed Booby causes a flutter in LA (PHOTOS)

blue footed booby

Photo by NH53 via Flickr Creative Commons

An adult Blue-footed Booby photographed on Santa Cruz, Galapagos in Ecuador.

Blue-footed Boobies

David Berkowitz via flickr Creative Commons

A pair of Blue-footed Boobies photographed on EspaƱola, Galapagos, Ecuador.

Blue feet

putneymark via flickr Creative Commons

The bright blue feet of the adult Blue-footed Booby.

Kimball Garrett

Sanden Totten/KPCC

Kimball Garrett shows some stuffed Blue-footed Boobies from the LA County Natural History Museum's ornithology collection.

Dan Cooper

Sanden Totten/KPCC

Biologist Dan Cooper stands with his telescope in Malibu near the spot where he spotted a Blue-footed Booby.

Blue-footed Booby in flight

putneymark via flickr Creative Commons

Blue-footed Boobies in flight.


For bird-watchers, spotting an elusive creature is cause for celebration, and over the few days, LA's avian enthusiasts have had plenty to crow about.

That's because the Blue-footed Booby, rare for these parts, has been seen all over Los Angeles County recently.

Celebrity bird

"There is something charismatic about these boobies," says Dan Cooper, an independent biologist and bird spotter.

Cooper was among the first to see this sea-bird here in Los Angeles County last week. The last time this species was spotted this far north was in 2007.

Since his initial report was posted on a bird tracking website, hundreds of other local birders have set out, binoculars in hand, to glimpse the animal for themselves.

John Garrett was among them. He's 20 and has watched birds since he was a child, but he has never seen this bird in the wild.

"Having photons from the bird reflect on your eyes, it's a different feeling than just knowing what they look like," Garrett says.

Boobies have been spotted in Playa Del Rey, Malibu, Legg Lake and even as far north as Point Reyes near San Francisco.

The Blue-footed Booby usually lives in warmer waters like the Gulf of California and is a mainstay of the Galapagos Islands. They are slightly bigger than a gull, colored brown, white and gray with pointy beaks that are good for catching slippery fish.

Adult birds develop strikingly blue feet that are used in a signature mating dance.

Boobies abound

Los Angeles County is in the middle of an incursion of Blue-footed Boobies, says Dan Cooper.

While exciting, Kimball Garrett, ornithology collections manager for the Natural History Museum of LA County, says this isn't unheard of. In the early 1970s there was a similar uptick in booby sightings.

Most likely, Garrett says, the boobies couldn't find enough food in their customary habitats so they spread out looking for more.

"When they show up here, they've just gone farther north than they normally would," Garrett says. The birds seen recently in L.A. County are young and have not yet developed the signature blue feet.

Garrett expects they won't stay too long since they are not use to the colder fall temperatures coming soon to LA.

What's in a name?

Although "Blue-footed Booby" sounds like a name a 14 year old might have made up, it's most likely a moniker that comes from sailors, says ornithologist Kimball Garrett.

Seafarers would come across the creatures and find they were surprisingly unafraid of humans, he explained.

"That tameness which is basically a lack of an evolved response to predators is misinterpreted as stupidity or something."

The sailors would call the trusting birds names like "goonies," "boobies" or "dodos," Garrett says.

Garrett himself prefers the bird's scientific name sula nebouxii. He acknowledges the common name is ripe for jokes, but he insists he wouldn't stoop that low.

"I try not to keep abreast of these things," Garrett says, completely straight faced.

 

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