Red-footed Booby
Sula sula


Herman and Jackie Bos, Dan Thompson, Sally King and I did the monthly waterbird count in Durban Bay from the SA Navy patrol vessel on 26 April 2006. We spotted a smallish floating carcass in the petrochemical region near the mouth and circled back to retrieve it. This is usually a futile exercise, as the result is typically a dead Feral Pigeon or a dead feral cat (my money was on the latter). But the object was a dead adult Red-footed Booby, closest to the plain brown morph in appearance. It had been dead about one day (just starting to smell but otherwise totally intact, including the eyes). The carcass was skinned by my technician, Ezra Mdletshe, for the Durban Natural Science Museum collection (our, and probably mainland-Africa's, first specimen of this species). The previous weekend was characterized by extremely windy conditions in Durban (amongst the strongest I've noticed from my Pinetown home). This is likely implicated in bringing this bird in (although, being in a harbour, some level of ship-assistance can't be ruled out and this species typically is attracted to ships, where it roosts and perches while hunting).

The specimen's body plumage is a dirty mottled brown/white throughout (without the white rump of the predominant, in our region, white-rumped morph) but plainer white on the lower underparts The wings are uniform brown above and below, and the bare facial skin was bluish, the bill was silvery in colour (pinkish at the base) and the legs and feet were red (but these colours faded rapidly subsequently). The carcass weighed 1066 grams on the same day that it was recovered. The primaries and tail were in moult. I'm delighted at this addition to my Museum's collection (especially as I saw enough live birds, including in southern African waters, on the 'Mega Indian Ocean Pelagic' last November to last me for a while) but my colleagues, who sat out the November adventure, were noticeably less enthusiastic about the lack of any signs of life to the bedraggled corpse we dragged aboard. This is a rare bird in South Africa. It does not even receive a mention in Gordon Maclean's 'Roberts VI' (subsequently amended, however, in the new 'Roberts VII').


Text and photographs by David Allan