Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: booby
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

common name for some members of the family Sulidae, large, streamlined sea birds. Tropical and subtropical members of the family are called boobies; those of northern waters are called gannets. These birds have heavy bodies; long, pointed wings; long, wedge-shaped tails; and short, stout legs. They fish by diving on their prey from great heights and pursuing it underwater; air sacs under their skin cushion the impact with the water and provide buoyancy, as with pelicans. The masked (Sula dactylatra), red-footed (S. sula), and brown (S. leucogaster) boobies are found the world over; the Peruvian (S. variegata), blue-footed (S. nebouxii), and Nazca (S. granti) boobies, on the west coasts of the Americas; and the Abbott's booby (Papasula abbotti), in the Indian Ocean. The common gannet of the North Atlantic, Morus bassanus, breeds in the British Isles, in the Gaspé region of Canada, and on Bird Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A Pacific gannet is one of the chief guano producers of the offshore islands of Peru. Gannets build crude nests of debris on narrow cliff ledges. The female lays a single egg, which she and the male incubate by covering it with their feet. Both gannets and boobies breed in colonies, some of which can be very large. Gannets have strong migration tendencies, while the boobies do not. The name booby is descriptive not only of the rather stupid facial expression of these birds, but also of their unwary, gullible behavior when hunted by humans—a factor that accounts for their diminishing numbers. Boobies and gannets are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Pelecaniformes, family Sulidae.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles


Full text Article booby
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A large tropical seabird belonging to the family Sulidae (gannets, etc.; 9 species) characterized by a large head, a long stout tapering...

See more from Credo