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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.