In California, a remarkable but mysterious invasion has nature enthusiasts polishing off the binoculars and setting out in the hope of logging a rare sighting of a seabird that can be identified, in part, by the distinct coloration of its feet.
Known as the Blue Footed Booby, this mysterious influx is rare in the U.S. West Coast.
Some of the first sightings were made about two weeks ago in the Malibu area in Southern California. Since then, sightings have occurred as far north as San Francisco, as far south as Long Beach, and at the Channel Islands.
The Los Angeles Times quotes biologist Kimball Garrett of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County as saying that suddenly, blue-footed boobies are “all over the place.”
The Blue Footed Booby typically inhabits warmer Pacific waters of the eastern Pacific. They’re fairly common, for example, in the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) and farther south, at the Galapagos Islands.
And while previous sightings have occurred in California (mainly the Salton Sea area), Texas, and Arizona, the large birds’ visits to these cooler, populated areas are extremely rare.
In fact, the last such influx was during the 1970s.
“This is the first invasion of boobies since the numbers of birders have swelled,” Garrett said. “So, there’s a lot of happy bird-watchers seeing them for the first time.”
Jennifer Rycenga, president of the Sequoia Audubon Society (San Mateo County), told KQED that spotting a Blue Footed Booby so far beyond its range is “kind of like a Halley’s Comet moment. It might not happen again in my lifetime.”
It’s not clear why so many boobies are popping up in California (there have been more than a dozen verified sightings).
But experts speculate that climate change could be a factor, and that the birds might have been driven north in a quest to find forage food, such as anchovies and sardines.
(Most of the wayward boobies have been juveniles, with feet that have yet to turn blue, making identification somewhat tricky for novice birders.)
One young booby was found waddling on a sidewalk near downtown L.A. It was skinny and obviously starving, so it was collected and delivered to the International Bird Rescue Center in San Pedro, where it’s said to be recovering.
“We’re going to fatten him up a little bit, then find a nice spot to release him,” Kylie Clatterbuck, a rehab specialist at the center, told The Times.
From a distance, blue-footed boobies appear almost gull-like. But their coloration is distinct. Adult birds are mostly white with dark wings and a mottled back. They have long, pointed tails and long, grayish bills.
Juveniles are mostly dark with white belly areas.
They’re interesting birds. If you’d like to see adult Blue Footed Boobies in a courtship dance, with their bright-blue feet in clear display, click here to view footage from the Galapagos. To hear the booby’s peculiar call, open this link and click on the audio link in the post.