The first red-footed booby (Sula sula) I had ever seen in Santa Cruz County was perched on the pier out to the Concrete Ship at Seacliff Beach. But the booby that has recently been hanging around Santa Cruz Wharf was a much more incredible and close bird.
The booby was first seen towards the end of the wharf on November 3. At the time, local birders assumed the booby was sick because it appeared very lethargic and allowed a very close approach from viewers, including some selfies seeking tourists. A local birder had to put up yellow caution tape to keep the booby admirers at bay.
The red-footed booby is a bird of the tropics and not the foggy coast of Northern California. The common name comes from the Spanish “bobo”, meaning buffoon. This refers to the ease in catching the bird and it’s awkward gait on land. Many of these seabirds experience “island syndrome” and because of their isolation from humans, they show little to no fear of them. (Think of the now extinct dodo). This tropical visitor showed no fear to the humans walking up to it when even a gull would fly away.
On Friday afternoon, I drove out to the end of the wharf. The booby had been reported across from the Dolphin Restaurant, which is one of the last eating establishments at the end of the wharf.
I parked across the street from Stagnaros and looked up and 20 feet away was the red-footed booby perched on the wharf railing! There was also a small audience taking pictures of the wayward rarity.
I got out of my car and snapped a few photos and then I took out my sketchbook to get a sketch in. It was easy to sketch the booby because the bird was about six feet away and seemed completely unfazed by the birder paparazzi.
It was great to observe the booby up close with the naked eye. It was a little challenging to sketch as it was in constant motion, preening or tucking it bill into it’s feathers for a quick nap or keeping a western gull at bay.
From my observations, the booby was well and thriving. It had been seen fishing with gulls, cormorants, and pelicans in the bay so I assume it was finding plenty of fish. It landed on the wharf rail to preen and rest.
Let’s hope the world’s smallest booby stays with us throughout the winter!