Biodiversity

Species Profile and Threats Database


For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
 
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed marine
Listed migratory - CAMBA, JAMBA
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Policy Statements and Guidelines Marine bioregional plan for the North-west Marine Region (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012y) [Admin Guideline].
 
Offshore and foraging pelagic seabirds - A Vulnerability Assessment for the Great Barrier Reef (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), 2011h) [Admin Guideline].
 
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
List of Migratory Species (13/07/2000) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000b) [Legislative Instrument].
 
Declaration under section 248 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of Marine Species (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000c) [Legislative Instrument].
 
Scientific name Sula sula [1023]
Family Sulidae:Pelecaniformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Linnaeus,1766)
Infraspecies author  
Reference  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Sula sula

Common name: Red-footed Booby

Other names: Red-footed Gannet, Red-legged Gannet

This species is conventionally accepted as Sula sula (Christidis & Boles 2008). Three subspecies are recognised: Sula sula sula from the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean, S. s. rubripes from the Indian Ocean to the central Pacific Ocean, and S. s. websteri from the Galapagos Islands, Revillagigedo Island and Costa Rica (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Red-footed Booby is a slender bird with conspicuous red feet, long tail and a bill that can be blackish to pale blue. The eye is grey to grey-green and skin around the eye can vary from dark grey to blue to purplish in colour. Plumage colouring is extremely varied, with two main 'morphs' recognized: a white morph in which plumage is mainly white except the head area that is strongly tinged yellow, and black primary and secondary flight feathers; and an ash-brown morph in which feathers are pale to dark brown , except the tail which is usually white. A range of intermediate forms are also known and the two morphs intermix regularly (Lindsey 1986; Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Males are approximately 15% smaller in body size than females (Lormée et al. 2003) with the approximate body length being 70–80 cm and an approximate wing span of 140–145 cm. At 1 kg the Red-footed Booby is the smallest and lightest of the Booby family (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Red-footed Booby is essentially confined to tropical waters between 30° N and 30° S in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. The species is found world-wide, though is considered a vagrant to the west African coast (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

In Australia, the distribution is apparently disjunct; birds are not known to travel far from breeding colonies, though juveniles travel further than adults and emigrate to other islands. The species has been recorded on the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea islands from north of Cape York to east of Innisfail, and has also been recorded near Proserpine, Queensland (Marchant & Higgins 1990). The Red-footed Booby can be a vagrant further south along the Queensland coast to as far as northern NSW where one has been recorded near Ballina (Lindsey 1986), however there have been no records from Western Australian or the Northern Territory coasts (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The extent of occurrence for the Red-footed Booby worldwide is 32 500 km2 (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The species has an extensive distribution over tropical regions of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (Lindsey 1986).

The Red-footed Booby is not globally threatened. The species is one of the most abundant and widespread of all sulids, though the population is widely scattered on a myriad of small islands around the tropics and few colonies are protected (Lindsey 1986; Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The world-wide population of the Red-footed Boody is estimated at over one million birds (del Hoyo et al. 1992).

Marchant and Higgins (1990) list breeding sites in Australian waters and maximum counts of birds, pairs or nests where available:


Location Number of breeding pairs Number of nests
Raine Island 150 (approx)  
Moulter Cay 2  
Wreck reef 10  
north-east Cay (Herald Group)1000  
south-west Cay (Herald Group) 676  
south-west Cay (Coringa Group)   1100
Chilcott Island (Coringa Group)   693
south-east Magdelaine Cay   1847
Diamond Cay (east) 44  
Diamond Cay (south-west) 192  
Lihou Reef 141  
Willis Island few  
Cato Island 20  

In Western Australia at least 14 pairs have been recorded breeding on Adele Island (Coate 1997) and breeding has also been recorded on Ashmore Reef (Burbidge & Fuller 1996). The total breeding population in Australia would be approximately 1380–4990 pairs (Ross et al. 1996a). The Queensland breeding population may have increased, with up to 250 pairs now breeding on Raine Island and up to 108 pairs now breeding on Moulter Cay (QPWS 2002).

Tropical, pelagic and aerial, the Red-footed Booby resides in and over waters of greater than 22 °C surface-temperature in three major oceans. Distribution may be determined by the presence of important prey, especially flying fish, and vegetated islands for nesting. The species readily flies over land near shore, but does not cross wide areas of land. The Red-footed Booby flies within 30–40 m of the sea surface, often just clearing wave crests, but flies high when soaring in updrafts on the windward side of steep islands, usually in the evening (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The species forages in deep water up to 150 km from the nearest breeding island; but also forages near islands, outside reefs or occasionally in lagoons, but rarely close to continental land-masses. It may depend on cooler nutrient-rich waters for feeding, especially when breeding. A decline in numbers and breeding failure on Christmas Island (Pacific Ocean) during an El Nino Southern Oscillation occured when sea surface-temperature was high and food supply poor. The Red-footed Booby breeds on vegetated oceanic islands near deep water, usually at a low altitude on beaches or ridges of atolls and cays, or, on mountainous islands, on terraces and slopes around the perimeter up to 70 m above sea level. Nests may be placed in any vegetation dense enough to provide support and extended enough to accommodate a colony. These included forest canopy, shrubs, or, on cays, low cover of shrubs, herbs and grasses. Individuals prefer inner parts of vegetated areas rather than edges.

Generally, the Red-footed Booby roosts on land in groups with individuals closely spaced, usually in the branches of trees or shrubs. The species has been recorded to roost on the ground in dense grass, and on the superstructure of ships at sea, and occasionally to rest on the sea, floating buoyantly. During breeding, incubating or brooding, birds sleep on the nest. The partner, when present, roosts on the side of nest or on perch close by. Juveniles, immatures and non-breeding adults roost together near breeding colonies. Activities of adults outside breeding period are not fully known. Some pairs roost in their same territories at night, whilst others depart for periods of uncertain length and roost elsewhere. (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The oldest known bird is approximately 23 years old (ABBBS 2010).

The Red-footed Booby breeds as territorial pairs within a breeding colony. Colony size and density can vary, sometimes to thousands of pairs (Lindsey 1986).

Usually, the Red-footed Booby builds a nest in the terminal branches of a supporting tree or shrub. The height at which the nest is placed depends partly on the height of available vegetation. At Raine Island, nests have been recorded in shrubs such as Abutilon indicum and Sesbania cannabina (Marchant & Higgins 1990). On Pandora Cay, a nest on a grass tussock (Lepturus repens) has been recorded (King, B.R. in Marchant & Higgins 1990). Nests consist mainly of twigs or whatever material is available, and are generally lined with finer twigs and some leafy material. In time, nests become covered with guano. Nests are usually substantial, and are sometimes re-used from year to year (Marchant & Higgins 1990). The species breeds all year round. On Cocos-Keeling Island and Christmas Island the Red-footed Booby's lay eggs from January to July, but mainly in the April to June period. In the Coral Sea, laying is from June to January, but mainly September to October. On Raine Island and Pandora Cay, the species probably breeds all year round (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

A single egg is laid which is incubated for approximately 45 days. The nestling period is over 100 days, of which about 5–6 weeks it is brood guarded by one of the parents. Fledglings still depend on parents for around three months after fledging, and sometimes return to the nest (Marchant & Higgins 1990, Nelson 1978).

The species also breeds in colonies outside of Australia, including the Galapagos Islands, where distribution is said to be limited to islands not resident to the Galapagos Hawk (Buteo galapagoensis), most likely in response to chick protection (Anderson 2008). Chick predation has been recorded on Europa Island, in the Mozambique Channel where Loumée and colleagues (2003) recorded that young chicks could not be left unprotected because of the predation risk from Pied Crows (Corvus albus). During breeding, loss of eggs is probably mostly by desertion, but may also be due to interference from frigatebirds (Fregata spp), and both eggs and small chicks are sometimes taken by Silver Gulls (Larus novaehollandiae) (King, in Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Red-footed Booby mostly feeds on fish, especially flying fish, and also cephalopods (Marchant & Higgins 1990). Birds often follow boats, sometimes for hundreds of kilometres. In the tropical Pacific region, Red-footed Booby's feed in association with other birds including the White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus), White Tern (Gygis alba) and the Common Noddy (Anous stolidus). The species has also been seen associated with dolphins, such as the Spotted Dolphin (Stenella attenuata), Spinner Dolphin (S. longirostris), Striped Dolphin (S. coeruleoalba), Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) and Rough-toothed Dolphin (Steno bredanensis). These Dolphins are themselves often associated with schools of tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Feeding is by plunge diving to small depths and the species is usually known to feed in groups (Le Corre 1997). Adult Red-footed Booby's can forage up to 11–13 hours per day in the breeding season. This contrasts with total fasting that each bird undertakes whilst incubating the egg which is undertaken in shifts. Post egg hatching foraging trips are shorter in length, and though both males and females share nest responsibilities equally, males spend more time at sea foraging, affecting body condition (Lormée et al. 2003). Some populations of Red-footed Booby's show nocturnal foraging characteristics, suggested to be in response to the stealing of food by othe bird species such as Frigatebirds (Fregata spp), Skuas (Stercorariidae) and Sheathbills (Chionididae) (Le Corre & Jouventin 1997).

Migration patterns of the species are poorly known. Most adults appear to leave colonies after breeding but some return more often than others. There is substantial movement of immatures in the north-central Pacific, but most probably return to natal or nearby island to breed (Nelson 1978). Recoveries of 275 birds banded on Raine Island, north Queensland, showed birds came from the Gulf of Papua to the north, and one from Willis Island to southeast (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Tree-nesting habit has largely enabled the species to avoid the impacts of humans, rats, cats and wild pigs. However, direct exploitation by humans and destruction of nesting habitat has occurred, with at least twelve colonies being lost in the west Indian Ocean during the last 100 years, and in the South Atlantic, where only 100 pairs remain (Marchant & Higgins 1990). Increasing numbers have been killed on the Cocos-Keeling Island by Malays and large scale egg-collecting continues (Stokes et al. 1984). Following a cyclone, a moratorium was placed on harvesting in 1989 to allow the colony to recover. However, in contravention of Australian legislation enacted in 1992, illegal harvesting continues (Ross et al. 1996a). The annual illegal harvest is estimated at 3000-10 000 birds (Baker et al, 2004; Hicks, J. pers. comm. in Ross et al. 1996a).

The species is susceptible to changes of habitat on breeding islands. Clearing of vegetation for mining, settlement, crops and coconut plantations, and effects of dust from mining operations have been implicated in the desertion of former breeding areas on Christmas Island and the main atoll of Cocos-Keeling Island (Marchant & Higgins 1990). Internationally, populations are probably still limited by egg-collecting, poaching, predation by rats and disturbance caused by tourism (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Climate change may affect food supply (Heatwole et al. 1996) and other generic threats such as increased pressure from tourism and fisheries may also be significant (Stokes et al. 1996). As the Red-footed Booby is a deep, pursuit plunging diver, the species could be at risk from oil pollution (Dann & Jessop 1994).

Marine bioregional plans have been developed for four of Australia's marine regions - South-west, North-west, North and Temperate East. Marine Bioregional Plans will help improve the way decisions are made under the EPBC Act, particularly in relation to the protection of marine biodiversity and the sustainable use of our oceans and their resources by our marine-based industries. Marine Bioregional Plans improve our understanding of Australia's oceans by presenting a consolidated picture of the biophysical characteristics and diversity of marine life. They describe the marine environment and conservation values of each marine region, set out broad biodiversity objectives, identify regional priorities and outline strategies and actions to address these priorities. Click here for more information about marine bioregional plans.

The Red-footed Booby has been identified as a conservation value in the North-west (DSEWPaC 2012y) Marine Region. See Schedule 2 of the North-west Marine Bioregional Plan (DSEWPaC 2012y) for regional advice. Maps of Biologically Important Areas have been developed for Red-footed Booby in the North-west (DSEWPaC 2012y) Marine Region and may provide additional relevant information. Go to the conservation values atlas to view the locations of these Biologically Important Areas. The "species group report card - seabirds" for the North-west (DSEWPaC 2012y) Marine Region provides additional information.

The Department's Wildlife Conservation Plan for Migratory Shorebirds (AGDEH 2006f), the Background Paper to the Wildlife Conservation Plan for Migratory Shorebirds (AGDEH 2005c) and The Action Plan for Australian Birds (Garnett & Crowley 2000) also contain actions aimed at the conservation of migratory birds within Australia.

The following bioregional plans describe conservation values relevant to the species:

  • The North Marine Bioregional Plan: Bioregional Profile: A Description of the Ecosystems, Conservation Values and Uses of the North Marine Region (DEWHA 2008).
  • North-West Marine Bioregional Plan: Bioregional Profile: A Description of the Ecosystems, Conservation Values and Uses of the North-West Marine Region (DEWHA 2008b)
  • The South-West Marine Bioregional Plan: Bioregional Profile: A Description of the Ecosystems, Conservation Values and Uses of the South-West Marine Region (DEWHA 2008a)
  • The East Marine Bioregional Plan, Bioregional Profile: A Description of the Ecosystems, Conservation Values and Uses of the East Marine Region (DEWHA 2009m)

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Agriculture and Aquaculture:Land clearing, habitat fragmentation and/or habitat degradation Sula sula in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006yj) [Internet].
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Wood and Pulp Plantations:Habitat destruction due to forestry activities Sula sula in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006yj) [Internet].
Biological Resource Use:Fishing and Harvesting Aquatic Resources:Overfishing, competition with fishing operations and overfishing of prey fishing Sula sula in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006yj) [Internet].
Biological Resource Use:Hunting and Collecting Terrestrial Animals:Direct exploitation by humans including hunting Sula sula in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006yj) [Internet].
Climate Change and Severe Weather:Climate Change and Severe Weather:Climate change altering atmosphere/hydrosphere temperatures, rainfall patterns and/or frequency of severe weather events Sula sula in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006yj) [Internet].
Energy Production and Mining:Mining and Quarrying:Habitat destruction, disturbance and/or modification due to mining activities Sula sula in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006yj) [Internet].
Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Recreational Activities:Environemental pressures due to ecotourism Sula sula in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006yj) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation by rats Sula sula in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006yj) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Predation, competition, habitat degradation and/or spread of pathogens by introduced species Sula sula in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006yj) [Internet].
Pollution:Pollution:Pollution due to oil spills and other chemical pollutants Sula sula in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006yj) [Internet].
Residential and Commercial Development:Residential and Commercial Development:Habitat modification (clearance and degradation) due to urban development Sula sula in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006yj) [Internet].

Anderson, D. (2008). Apparent predator-limited distribution of Galápagos Red-footed Boobies Sula sula. Ibis Vol. 133 (1):26-29.

Australian Bird & Bat Banding Scheme (ABBBS) (2010). ABBBS Database search: Sula sula (Red-footed Booby). [Online]. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/biodiversity/abbbs/abbbs-search.pl.

Baker, G.B., R.B. Cunningham & W. Murray (2004). Are red-footed boobies Sula sula at risk from harvesting by humans on Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Indian Ocean?. Biological Conservation. 119(2):271-278.

Burbidge, A.A. & P.J. Fuller (1996). The Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management seabird breeding islands database. In: Ross, G.J.B., K. Weaver & J.C. Greig, eds. The status of Australia's seabirds Proceedings of the National Seabird Workshop, Canberra, 1-2 November 1993. Page(s) 73-137. Canberra: Biodiversity Group, Env. Aust.

Christidis, L. & W.E. Boles (2008). Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds. Collingwood, Victoria: CSIRO Publishing.

Coate, K. (1997). Seabird islands No. 236: Adele Island, Western Australia. Corella. 21:124-128.

Dann, P. & R. Jessop (1994). The effects of oil on birds - an evalution of birds at risk along the Great Barrier Reef and a brief general review of the effects of oil on individuals and populations. Workshop on Oiled Seabird Cleaning and Rehabilitation. Workshop Series No. 15. Townsville: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

del Hoyo, J., A. Elliot & J. Sargatal (1992). Ostrich to Ducks. In: Handbook of the Birds of the World. 1. Spain: Lynx Edicions.

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) (2008). The North Marine Bioregional Plan: Bioregional Profile: A Description of the Ecosystems, Conservation Values and Uses of the North Marine Region. [Online]. Canberra: DEWHA. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/resource/north-marine-bioregional-plan-bioregional-profile-description-ecosystems-conservation.

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) (2008a). The South-West Marine Bioregional Plan: Bioregional Profile: A Description of the Ecosystems, Conservation Values and Uses of the South-West Marine Region. [Online]. Canberra: DEWHA. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/resource/south-west-marine-bioregional-plan-bioregional-profile-description-ecosystems-conservation.

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) (2008b). North-West Marine Bioregional Plan: Bioregional Profile: A Description of the Ecosystems, Conservation Values and Uses of the North-West Marine Region. [Online]. Canberra: DEWHA. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/mbp/publications/north-west/bioregional-profile.html.

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) (2009m). The East Marine Bioregional Plan, Bioregional Profile: A Description of the Ecosystems, Conservation Values and Uses of the East Marine Region. [Online]. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/mbp/publications/east/pubs/bioregional-profile.pdf.

Heatwole, H., J.P. O'Neill, M. Jones & M. Preker (1996). Long-term population trends for seabirds in the Swain Reefs, Queensland. In: CRC Reef Research Technical Report. 12. [Online]. Available from: http://www.reef.crc.org.au/publications/techreport/TechRep12.shtml.

Le Corre, M. (1997). Diving Depths of Two Tropical Pelecaniformes: The Red-Tailed Tropicbird and the Red-Footed Booby. The Condor Vol. 99 (4):1004-1007.

Le Corre, M. & P. Jouventin (1997). Kleptoparasitism in Tropical Seabirds: Vulnerability and Avoidance Responses of a Host Species, the Red-Footed Booby. The Condor. 99 (1):162-168.

Lindsey, T.R. (1986). The Seabirds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.

Lormée, H., P. Jouveni, C. Trouve & O. Chastel (2003). Sex-specific patterns in baseline corticosterone and body condition changes in breeding Red-footed Boobies Sula sula.. Ibis. 145:212-219.

Marchant, S. & P.J. Higgins (1990). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume One - Ratites to Ducks. Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Nelson, J.B. (1978). The Sulidae: Gannets and Boobies. Oxford University Press, London.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) (2002a). Coastal Bird Atlas, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Rockhampton, Qld (curators: P. O'Neill and R. White). Queried 16 April 2002.

Ross, G.J.B., A.A. Burbidge, N. Brothers, P. Canty, P. Dann, P.J. Fuller, K.R. Kerry, F.I. Norman, P.W. Menkhorst, D. Pemberton, G. Shaughnessy, P.D. Shaughnessy, G.C. Smith, T. Stokes & J. Tranter (1996a). The status of Australia's seabirds. In: Zann, L., ed. The State of the Marine Environment Report for Australia, Technical Summary. Dept of the Environment, Sport & Territories, Canb.

Stokes, T., K. Hulsman, P. Ogilvie & P. O'Neill (1996). Management of human visitation to seabird islands of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park region. Corella. 20:1-13.

Stokes, T., W. Sheils & K. Dunn (1984). Birds of the Cocos - Keeling Islands, Indian Ocean. Emu. 84:23-28.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Sula sula in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Thu, 24 Apr 2014 20:42:24 +1000.