Did I get your attention? I love Blue-Footed Boobies! A bumpy hour boat ride off the coast of Puerto López, Ecuador ushered us to the isolated Isla de Plata, known as the poor man’s Galápagos or Silver Island because of the large deposits of guano that stain its dark cliffs. Some say that the uninhabited island derived its name from the centuries-old buried treasure of Sir Francis Drake.
Indeed, there is treasure to be discovered here, but not in the way you would presume. Take a walk with me . Let’s see if we can spot some Blue-Footed Boobies…my favorite comical birds.
A sea turtle greets us. I think he’s saying, “Welcome to Isla de la Plata.”
The fishermen drape their boats in a colorful array of blankets to shade them from the hot sun, while frigate birds besiege fishermen’s nets cast into the warm, tranquil waters.
My first peek at the Blue-Footed Boobies from afar. I’m glad I have a good zoom on my camera. Let’s see if we can spot more on our long, hot, and steep walk to their nesting grounds.
Negotiating the steep trail to the island’s central plateau is not for the weak and foolhardy. But, the rewards of the magnificent vista are worth it.
Nature’s hair gel and glue! These small white berries extract a sticky glue-like substance…but, don’t eat them. More than three digested berries and you’re in for a long haul in the bathroom.
Candelabra cacti seem to defy this dry landscape and dare to show their pretentious blossoms.
Show me them boobies! An inquisitive and seemingly fearless booby pads beside us vainly parading her trademark blue feet.
“Why the blue feet? ” I wonder. The main reason, I learned, is diet related. Carotenoid pigments are obtained from their food and concentrated in their feet, giving them the characteristic and easily identifiable blue feet. The higher the concentration of carotenoids, the more intensely blue are their feet. Males, especially, take pride in their bright blue feet for the purposes of mating.
This handsome booby poses for pictures.
“No, no! I like this side view better,” quacks Ms. Booby after a healthy dose of preening.
“Look deep into my shiny yellow-green eyes! Feel the love?” Boobies have excellent binocular vision. The better to see you with, my dear.
Both parents feed and care for their baby boobies. Their immature feet are clad in a layer of soft white down. Until they reach maturity, their feet are white. “Look at me. Take my photo, too.”
The chicks stay with their parents about two months after hatching. Then, it is time to spread their wings and fly.
During the mating season, the blue-footed boobies perform an elaborate mating dance. First, the male gives the female a small stone or stick. Then, he bows to his lady, tips his beak to the sky and whistles. They slowly march around each other for hours showboating their bright blue feet. The intensity of the male’s blue feet flaunts the strength and health of a potential mate. If a male is unhealthy, sick, or old, he will generally not be as good at securing food as a healthy male. Thus, having bright blue feet signifies that the male is strong and healthy. Interestingly, studies have shown that chicks raised by brighter-footed males grow faster than chicks raised by duller-footed males.
This blue-footed booby is strong and healthy. Just look at those bright blue feet.
“But, what about me?”, asks the brilliantly crimson-blazed and puffed up mating frigate. I haven’t forgotten you. You get a special post. Stay tuned.