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#ABArare – Blue-footed Boobies – California

California is in the midst of an invasion of Blue-footed Boobies (Code 4). It is occurring over an unprecedented area, with reports coming from every coastal county from San Diego to Marin (11 total) and at least one inland county (Riverside) since Sep 11. A scan of Birding News and a few other sources turned up at least 23 reports, perhaps involving as many as 33 individuals and possibly more. Looking back further, there was a credible report from Mono Lake on Aug 25, as well as boobies in New Mexico (present from Aug 11 until Aug 13 when it was taken to a rehabber where it later died) and Arizona (present from Aug 15 to at least Aug 31). Going hand in hand with this invasion, there has been an unprecedented number of booby jokes on birding listservs and Facebook.

Blue-footed Booby (lower right) with Brown Pelicans, La Jolla, California. Photo by Gary Nunn.

Blue-footed Booby (lower right) with Brown Pelicans, La Jolla, California. Photo by Gary Nunn.

On the basis of the number of individuals, this is California’s second-largest invasion. Interestingly, there are no reports yet this year from the Salton Sea, where historically most sightings have occurred. The largest invasion, which occurred in 1972 and involved at least 45 individuals, was almost entirely confined to the Salton Sea. Recently, weather and road conditions have restricted access to parts of the Sea. Once birders have full access again, perhaps this situation will change.

Most reports this year are coming from coastal locations, but there are at least three inland reports. Two have come from lakes in Riverside and Los Angeles counties. The other was seen in flight over Borrego Springs in eastern San Diego County. Given the number of reports, I would not be surprised if I have missed additional inland reports. The largest congregation so far has been at Marina del Rey on the coast, where seven birds have been seen.

Blue-footed Booby plunge diving at La Jolla. Photo by Gary Nunn.

Blue-footed Booby plunge diving at La Jolla. Photo by Gary Nunn.

Given how sudden and widespread the reports have been, I would not be surprised if Blue-footed Boobies are seen further north, both along the coast and inland. Birders in Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and even British Columbia should keep an eye out for this species. There are a few records and reports from each of these areas (including a completely fictitious sighting from the San Juan Islands of Washington in the movie The Big Year; British Columbia has a single report with a written description but no records with physical evidence).

Note: all the reports so far have been of immature birds, which don’t have bright blue feet like adults.

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John Puschock

John Puschock

John Puschock reports ABA rare bird alerts and manages #ABArare for the American Birding Association. John is a frequent participant in rare bird forums around the web and has knack for gathering details necessary to relocate birds. He has been a birder since 1984 and now leads tours for Bird Treks, as well as for his own company Zugunruhe Birding Tours. He has led tours to locations across North America, from Newfoundland to New Mexico and from Costa Rica to Alaska. He specializes in leading tours to Adak in the Aleutian Islands.
  • JoshExmoor

    Not to be alarmist, but with reliable Boobies in Southern California in the fall the chances of being able to pull off the long talked about “dirty day” are very high. I just checked eBird and the other tough rarity, Dickcissel, was reported 2 days ago NE of Los Angeles. In the old days one would have just needed to then find the comparatively easy birds, Wrentit, Bushtit, and Oak Titmouse to pull it off, but I believe that you would now need to make a short flight and probably hire a private helicopter in order to complete the day with a Himalayan Snowcock.

  • Steven Tucker

    Saw one in San Francisco today. It was everything I thought it would be, and more. Sonoma County got its first BFBO this morning…they are still moving north.

  • Kenneth Bader

    I was wondering if all the Blue-footed Booby observations have been of immature individuals as opposed to adults?

    • The vast majority of the birds seen have been immature birds, but I seem to recall at least a few adults reported as well.

  • Charlene Burge

    Sixteen Blue-footed Boobies today at the SW edge of Obsidian Butte. Watched for a few hours until they all took off shortly before sunset.

  • Lora

    I was out freediving in front of La Jolla Shores today in about 100 feet of water. Some kelp drifted in our direction and as I was pushing it away I noticed two bird feet in the water. When I looked up, I was happily surprised to see an adolescent Blue-footed Boobie about 4 feet away from me. He/she was very curious about us but dove down a few times, swam under the kelp and popped back up. It was hard to contain my excitement! He/she disappeared for a while and we continued our dives. A few minutes later, as I was on the surface breathing up before a dive, I felt something scuttle across my fins – low and behold, my friend was sitting next to my fins when I looked up. My buddy told me that he/she also accompanied me on my dive for a few feet. Wish I had seen that! Anyway, just thought I’d share my Blue-footed Boobie close encounter.

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