Brown Boobies

Last week we had lots of fabulous encounters with boisterous, curious, cute “teenager” birds–cute brown boobies. On most inhabited atolls of the Tuamotus there are no more ground nesting birds and even here on uninhabited Tahanea too many visiting copra workers (but also thoughtless cruisers) have shied away nesting couples from many of the motu on the remote side of the atoll. This year we have taken Pitufa to the Western side of the atoll, which is bommie-strewn and difficult to navigate. There we have adventurously anchored off little islets in the lagoon or sometimes just big coral heads with a few shrubs growing on them. Brown boobies have found a refuge there and as soon as we anchored Pitufa, we had a crowd of young brown boobies circling the boat–still practising how to fly and land, but eager for entertainment. They have never met people in their young lives, so they are quite tame and unafraid. They fearlessly landed on the railing, clumsily holding on to the lifeline while curiously watching our every move. One of them crash-landed on the aft-deck–fortunately he wasn’t hurt. We sat quietly in the cockpit while he wandered around, tried everything with his beak (lines, shoes, etc.) and finally did a plunge-dive from the swimming ladder. And no, he did not poop all over the deck–but then we also didn’t shout and wave to scare him away (like many boaters would have done). Of course we also didn’t go ashore and left the nesting parents in peace.

The term ‘brown booby’ is misleading: only the young birds are dark-brown (and to be honest quite ugly). The adults are black, with a gleaming white chest. The name ‘booby’ apparently is derived from Spanish ‘bobo’ (stupid) and in all other languages we know they also have some derogative name, because they tend to land on boats and are therefore easy to catch. Sailors also effortlessly killed masses of them as provisioning on lonely islands. Young brown boobies have a tendency to relentlessly plunge-dive for trolled lures (we get the fishing lines in as soon as we have boobies circling the boat), so again cruisers call them stupid for that behaviour. Since when is curiosity a sign of stupidity? I rather think it’s a strong indication that they are quite smart. Looking into their startling bright grey-blue eyes you see a sparkling intelligence gazing back.

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