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GENOVESA ISLAND GALAPAGOS - DOVES,
RED-FOOTED BOOBIES AND SHORT-EARED OWLS

Story and photos by

Trips to the Galapagos that visit Genovesa Island (also called Tower Island) usually land at Prince Philip's Steps, located on the eastern end of Darwin Bay. On our tour from the Ecoventura Galapagos cruise ship, M/Y Eric, we followed a trail past leafless palo santo (incense) trees.

Red-footed booby chick
Red-footed booby chick
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Balls of white fluff filled twig nests in the trees. Their large black eyes curiously followed our movements.

Red-footed boobies

They belonged to red-footed booby chicks that looked remarkably like white versions of Sesame Street's Big Bird. Isla Genovesa is the only Galapagos Island where you can see red-footed boobies (scientific name: Sula sula).

"Only 140,000 pairs of red-footed boobies nest on Genovesa," said Cecibel Guerrero, our informative Galapagos guide. The name booby, she explained, comes from the Spanish word bobo, which means "clown" because you can't resist smiling when you see them.

"Of the seven species of boobies in the world, only red-footed boobies nest in trees," said Ceci. She pointed out their flexible prehensile webbed feet that they wrap around branches.

Adult red-footed booby wraps webbed feet around tree branch.
Adult red-footed booby wraps webbed feet around tree branch.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Red footed-booby nests and eggs

According to Ceci Guerrero, red-footed booby males select the nests. Females fly around and select the male, the nest and the neighborhood.

After courting, the pair finishes the nest together. They don't mate for life, however.

Females lay only one egg, about the size of a chicken egg, which takes 41 days to hatch. Both parents share the responsibility of incubating the egg and feeding the chick.

Ceci noted that red-footed boobies are pelagic. "They've been seen flying halfway from the Galapagos to Costa Rica to fish, and on Cocos Island 550 kilometers (340 miles) off Costa Rica's Pacific coast."

Parents can leave their chicks alone in nests while they go fishing, because red-footed boobies have no predators. "Genovesa Island has no introduced species, such as rats, dogs and cats," explained Ceci. "Booby chicks need parents to help regulate their temperature, but they don't need adults to protect them from predators."

Colorful red-footed booby head
Colorful red-footed booby head
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Although their feathers or plumage can be brown or white, adult red-footed boobies are very colorful. Their feet look like they've dipped them into a bucket of red paint.

The beaks are blue, with pink at the base and in front of the eyes. "Their eyes look like they are surrounded with blue eye shadow, like the kind my mom used to wear in the 1970s," said Ceci, with a smile.

How to identify Galapagos boobies

We took photos of a downy white chick on the ground. It had lavender eyes and black web feet. Ceci identified it as a Nazca booby chick.

Nazca booby chick
Nazca booby chick
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Although adult red-footed boobies are easy to differentiate from mature blue-footed boobies and black & white Nazca boobies, how do you identify their chicks? The feet of red-footed booby chicks don't turn red until they are three years old.

As usual, our expert Galapagos National Park guide made identification easy. "You find red-footed booby chicks in nests in trees and Nazca and blue-footed booby chicks in ground nests."

Good. Now how do you indentify which booby chicks are in ground nests when their parents aren't with them? Again, Ceci answered our question.

"Nazca boobies make nests of twigs, rocks or coral on the ground. Blue-footed boobies sweep the ground clean for their nests."

Ceci grins and says, "I know what you're thinking. No, red-footed boobies can't interbreed with blue-footed boobies and have purple-footed boobies."

We laugh. It's great to have a Galapagos guide that is informative and funny.

Juvenile Nazca booby takes regurgitated fish from parent's throat.
Juvenile Nazca booby takes regurgitated fish from parent's throat.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Nazca boobies

An immature Nazca booby (scientific name: Sula granti) made a series of quick quack-like sounds in succession. Hearing his incessant cries, his mother opened her orange beak. The juvenile booby shoved his head inside to collect predigested fish to satisfy his hunger.

"Nazca boobies lay two eggs, four days apart," explained Ceci. "The first baby has the advantage of receiving five extra days of food."

If the second chick survives, the older baby kicks it out of the nest. The parents pretend they don't see it.

"It's called siblicide," explained Ceci. "Nazca boobies lay the second egg in case the first chick dies."

Galapagos dove
Galapagos dove
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Galapagos dove

We were distracted by a brown bird with black and white-edged feathers, pecking the ground by our feet. Ceci identified it as a Galapagos dove (scientific name: Zenaida galapagoensis).

These endemic Galapagos birds are beautiful. Galapagos doves have red feet, blue eyeliner and neck feathers with a golden sheen.

Short-eared owl

We would have walked right by another Galapagos bird, if Ceci had not pointed it out. The short-eared owl (scientific name: Asio flammeus) had beautiful mottled tan and brown feathers and a black hooked beak.

Short-eared owl
Short-eared owl
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Perched on one leg on a ledge in a lava crevasse, it was sleeping. The short-eared owl opened one golden eye to check us out. Unalarmed by our presence, it went back to sleep.

The diet of short-eared owls includes Galapagos storm petrels. "During the day, they stalk them like a cat, walking from crack to crack in the lava to find them," explained Ceci.

While following the trail from Prince Philip's Steps, on Genovesa Island, we encountered many other Galapagos birds (mockingbirds, red-billed tropicbirds and Darwin's finches) as well as marine iguanas.

Amblyrhynchus cristatus nanus (scientific name) is the smallest subspecies of marine iguana in the Galapagos. Besides being smaller than the Fernandina marine iguanas, they were pure black and less colorful than the red and green Espanola marine iguanas.

The only thing that convinced us to leave this Galapagos island, teeming with life, was the fact that M/Y Eric's cruise itinerary also included another landing on Genovesa island, at Darwin Bay.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Ecoventura: www.ecoventura.com

Copa Airlines: www.copaair.com

Ecuador Ministry of Tourism: www.ecuador.travel

More things to see & do in the Galapagos Islands:

San Cristobal Galapagos Interpretation Center, Kicker Rock and Playa Ochoa

Santiago (James) Island Galapagos - Birds, Animals and Plants

Santa Cruz Galapagos Giant Tortoise Reserve - Rancho Primicias

North Seymour Galapagos Trip - Land Iguanas and Magnificent Frigatebirds

Gardner Bay Espanola Island Galapagos Beach - Sea Lions, Sea Turtles and Galapagos Hawks