#ABArare - Red-footed Booby - Florida
by Nate Swick
Florida continues to blow up with rare birds, the most recent of which is an ABA Code 4 Red-footed Booby, discovered by Connecticut birder Nick Bonomo and others, roosting with Magnificent Frigatebirds on Long Key in the Dry Tortugas, Monroe County. The bird was first observed from the ferry terminal on Garden Key and again from the ferry. Note that this is the Long Key within the National Park, not the Long Key in the Florida Keys between Conch and Fiesta Key.
The Dry Tortugas are part of the Florida Keys 67 miles west of Key West, Florida, and are accessible only by ferry, catamaran, or seaplane from Key West. There are many companies in Key West that provide transport to the Dry Tortugas, some of which cater specifically to birders.
Red-footed Boobies are polymorphic with a white, black-tailed white, "golden" white, brown, white-tailed brown, white-headed brown, and white-tailed brown morphs. It is one of two booby species that nest in trees where they will also roost.
Red-footed Booby is pantropical in distribution and long foraging flights make plotting this species' movements difficult. Juveniles are notorious for their long flights with some birds recorded over 100 miles from the nearest land. They often leave on foraging journeys at first light, returning after dark (HBW, Volume 1). Red-footed Booby is one of the most abundant and widespread of the boobies, yet it is casual in the ABA Area except at the Dry Tortugas where it it has been seen in 10 of the last 15 years (ABA Checklist, Seventh Edition, Pranty et al.). Its food preference is flying-fish and squid, both food types caught by plunge-diving, although flying-fish are also caught in flight. During moonlit nights, when squid are attracted to surface waters, Red-footed Boobies take advantage of the abundance of surface foods.