The brown booby is a sophisticated seabird


Bec Crew


Bec Crew

Bec Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
By Bec Crew 5 July 2021
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Is this the most elegant booby you’ve ever seen? A member of the booby and gannet family Sulidae, the brown booby is one of the most common and widespread species.

Found on islands and coastlines throughout the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, the brown booby is a highly adaptable bird, happy to nest on rocky cliffs or coral atolls when it’s not bobbing in the sea or cruising watchfully above it.

In Australia, the brown booby is found up in the north, from Bedout Island in Western Australia, along the coast of the Northern Territory to the Bunker Group of islands in Queensland. You might even see one off the coast of New South Wales and even Victoria, if you’re very lucky.

A perfect place to spot these birds is on Christmas Island, which hosts one of the world’s largest populations of brown boobies, with roughly 7,000 breeding pairs. 

Related: Galápagos: Home to the boobies

There are seven species of boobies in the world, and while the blue-footed booby is the most famous, known for its funny foot-tapping dance, the brown booby is one of the most distinctive, as the only species with so much dark-coloured plumage.

While the red-footed booby’s rainbow bill looks downright fantastical, the brown booby’s colouring looks like a work of art. 

It also varies slightly between sexes and locations. Males tend to have creamy-grey bills with a bright blue base and yellow feet, whereas females have a yellowish bill base and brighter yellow feet. 

Here’s a female, and judging by the look on her face, she’s not to be messed with:

(Image credit: Nature in Stock/Alamy Stock Photo)
Related: The red-footed booby has a rainbow Paddle Pop beak

Brown boobies are perhaps the most agile of all booby species when in flight, and they are unusual in that they are the only known ground-nesters. 

Instead of having to clumsily navigate their way around tree branches to get to their nests like the red-footed booby, they build simple or substantial nests on the ground, augmented by broken shells, vegetation, and sometimes plastic debris, and they use their wide, warm feet to incubate their eggs. 

Brown boobies might not be as goofy as their cousins, but they’re certainly not aloof. These birds are known to be friendly, too, as you can see here, when a very confident brown booby is encountered in Hawaii: