Sulidae – Gannets & Boobies

Red-footed Booby Sula sula ©Gregg Yan (Creative Commons) Website

The bird family Sulidae comprises the gannets and boobies. Collectively called sulids, they are medium-large coastal seabirds that plunge-dive for fish and similar prey. The ten species in this family are often considered congeneric in older sources, placing all in the genus Sula. However, Sula (true boobies) and Morus (gannets) can be readily distinguished by morphological, behavioural and DNA sequence characters. Abbott’s booby (Papasula) is given its own genus as it stands apart from both in these respects. It appears to be a distinct and ancient lineage, maybe closer to the gannets than to the true boobies

Sulids measure about 60 to 85 cm in length and have a wingspan of about 140 to 175 cm. They have long, narrow and pointed wings, and a quite long, graduated and rather lozenge-shaped tail whose outer feathers are shorter than the central ones. Their flight muscles are rather small to allow for the small cross section required for plunge-diving, and thus their wing loading is high. Consequently, they are very streamlined, reducing drag, so their bodies are “torpedo-shaped” as well as somewhat flat.

They have stout legs and webbed feet, with the web connecting all four toes. In some species the webs are brightly coloured and used in courtship displays. The bill is usually conspicuously coloured, long, deep at the base, and pointed, with saw-like edges. The upper mandible curves down slightly at the tip and can be moved upward to accept large prey. To keep water out during plunges, the nostrils enter into the bill rather than opening to the outside directly. The eyes are angled forward, and provide a wider field of binocular vision than in most other birds.

The plumage is either all-white (or light brownish or greyish) with dark wingtips and (usually) tail, or at least some dark brown or black above with white underparts; gannets have a yellowish hue to the head. The face usually has some sort of black markings, typically on the lores. Unlike their relatives (the darters and cormorants), sulids have a well-developed preen gland whose waxy secretions they spread on their feathers for waterproofing and pest control. They moult their tail feathers irregularly and the flight feathers of their wings in stages, so that starting at the first moult, they always have some old feathers, some new ones, and some partly grown ones. Moult as a response to periods of stress has been recorded

The sulids are distributed mainly in tropical and subtropical waters. Particularly gannets, however, are found in temperate regions too. These birds are not truly pelagic seabirds like the related Procellariiformes, and usually stay rather close to the coasts. But the abundant colonies of sulids that exist on many Pacific islands suggest that they are not infrequently blown away from their home range by storms, and can wander for long distances in search of a safe place to land if need be.

All species feed entirely at sea, mostly on mid-sized fish and similarly-sized marine invertebrates such as cephalopods. Many species feed communally, and some species follow fishing boats to scavenge discarded by-catch and chum. The typical hunting behaviour is to dive from mid-air, which takes the bird a meter or two under water. If their prey manages to escape the diving birds at first, they may give chase using their legs and wings for underwater swimming.

There are just 10 species in the Sulidae familly; they are:

Northern Gannet Morus bassanus Linnaeus, 1758

Cape Gannet Morus capensis Lichtenstein, MHK, 1823

Australasian Gannet Morus serrator Gray, GR, 1843

Abbott’s Booby Papasula abbotti Ridgway, 1893

Blue-footed Booby Sula nebouxii Milne-Edwards, 1882
S. n. nebouxii Milne-Edwards, 1882
S. n. excisa Todd, 1948

Peruvian Booby Sula variegata Tschudi, 1843

Masked Booby Sula dactylatra Lesson, R, 1831
S. d. dactylatra Lesson, R, 1831
S. d. melanops Hartlaub, 1859
S. d. tasmani van Tets, Meredith, Fullagar & Davidson, P, 1988
S. d. personata Gould, 1846

Nazca Booby Sula granti Rothschild, 1902

Red-footed Booby Sula sula Linnaeus, 1766
S. s. sula Linnaeus, 1766
S. s. rubripes Gould, 1838
S. s. websteri Rothschild, 1898

Brown Booby Sula leucogaster Boddaert, 1783
S. l. leucogaster Boddaert, 1783
S. l. brewsteri Goss, 1888
S. l. etesiaca Thayer & Bangs, 1905
S. l. plotus Forster, JR, 1844

Species Links
  • Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile
  • Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti

    IUCN Species Status
  • Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti

    Species Account
    Abbott's booby (Papasula abbotti) is an endangered seabird of the sulid family, which includes gannets and boobies. It is a large booby, smaller than gannets, and is placed within its own monotypic genus. It was first identified from a specimen collected by William Louis Abbott, who discovered it on Assumption Island in 1892.
  • Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account
  • Australasian Gannet Morus serrator

    IBC Species Account
    IBC species acoount and taxonomy
  • Australasian Gannet Morus serrator

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife profile
  • Australasian Gannet Morus serrator

    Species Account
    The male and female Australasian Gannet are similar in plumage. Most of the body is white, with dark tips on the major wing feathers and the inner tail feathers. The head is buff-yellow and the bill pale blue-grey with striking black borders to the bill sheaths.
  • Australasian Gannet Morus serrator

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species accoiunt
  • Australasian Gannet Morus serrator

    IUCN Species Status
  • Australasian Gannet Morus serrator

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Australasian Gannet Morus serrator

    Species Account
    The Australasian gannet (Morus serrator or Sula bassana), also known as Australian gannet and Tākapu, is a large seabird of the gannet family Sulidae.
  • Blue-footed Booby Sula nebouxii

    Species Account
    The blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii) is a marine bird native to subtropical and tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean. It is one of six species of the genus Sula – known as boobies. It is easily recognizable by its distinctive bright blue feet, which is a sexually selected trait.
  • Blue-footed Booby Sula nebouxii

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Blue-footed Booby Sula nebouxii

    IUCN Species Status
    IUCN species profile
  • Blue-footed Booby Sula nebouxii

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account
  • Blue-footed Booby Sula nebouxii

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile
  • Brown Booby Sula leucogaster

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Brown Booby Sula leucogaster

    Cornell Species Account
    Cornell species account
  • Brown Booby Sula leucogaster

    Species Account
    The brown booby (Sula leucogaster) is a large seabird of the booby family, Sulidae. They present sexual dimorphism. The female booby reaches about 80 centimetres (31 in) in length, its wingspan measures up to 150 cm (4.9 ft), and they can weigh up to 1,300 g (2.9 lb). The male booby reaches about 75 centimetres (30 in) in length, its wingspan measures up to 140 cm (4.6 ft), and they can weigh up to 1,000 g (2.2 lb)
  • Brown Booby Sula leucogaster

    IUCN Species Status
    IUCN species status and profile
  • Brown Booby Sula leucogaster

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account
  • Brown Booby Sula leucogaster

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile
  • Brown Booby Sula leucogaster

    IBC Species Account
    IBC species account and taxonomy
  • Cape Gannet Morus capensis

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile
  • Cape Gannet Morus capensis

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account
  • Cape Gannet Morus capensis

    IUCN Species Status
    Species account
  • Cape Gannet Morus capensis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Cape Gannet Morus capensis

    Species Account
    The Cape gannet (Morus capensis) originally Sula capensis, is a large seabird of the gannet family, Sulidae. They are easily identified by their large size, black and white plumage and distinctive yellow crown and hindneck.
  • Masked Booby Sula dactylatra

    Species Account
    The masked booby (Sula dactylatra) is a large seabird of the booby family, Sulidae. This species breeds on islands in tropical oceans, except in the eastern Atlantic; in the eastern Pacific it is replaced by the Nazca booby, Sula granti, which was formerly regarded as a subspecies of masked booby.[2][3] It is also called the masked gannet or the blue-faced booby.
  • Masked Booby Sula dactylatra

    Cornell Species Account
    A large seabird of tropical oceans, the Masked Booby is only a rare visitor to North America.
  • Masked Booby Sula dactylatra

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile
  • Masked Booby Sula dactylatra

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Masked Booby Sula dactylatra

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account
  • Masked Booby Sula dactylatra

    IUCN Species Status
    IUCN species profile
  • Nazca Booby Sula granti

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile
  • Nazca Booby Sula granti

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account
  • Nazca Booby Sula granti

    IUCN Species Status
    Species account
  • Nazca Booby Sula granti

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Nazca Booby Sula granti

    Species Account
    The Nazca booby (Sula granti) is a colonial seabird in the family Sulidae, native to the eastern Pacific.
  • Northern Gannet Sula bassanus

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife Species profile
  • Northern Gannet Sula bassanus

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account
  • Northern Gannet Sula bassanus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Northern Gannet Sula bassanus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Northern Gannet Sula bassanus

    Species Account
    The northern gannet (Morus bassanus) is a seabird and the largest member of the gannet family, Sulidae. "Gannet" is derived from Old English ganot "strong or masculine", ultimately from the same Old Germanic root as "gander".[2] Morus is derived from Ancient Greek moros, "foolish" due to the lack of fear shown by breeding gannets and boobies allowing them to be easily killed. The specific bassanus is from the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth, which holds the world's largest colony of northern gannets.[3]
  • Peruvian Booby Sula variegata

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Peruvian Booby Sula variegata

    Cornell Species Account
    Cornell species account
  • Peruvian Booby Sula variegata

    Species Account
    The Peruvian booby (Sula variegata) is an endemic bird of the Peruvian current, and an important predator of the marine community to which it belongs.[2] Its distribution is much less widespread than other closely related booby species. It is the most abundant seabird species that inhabits the Peruvian coast[3] and the second most important guano-producing seabird. During the mid-twentieth century, the Peruvian booby population reached 3 million birds.
  • Peruvian Booby Sula variegata

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile
  • Peruvian Booby Sula variegata

    Webpage
    Species account
  • Peruvian Booby Sula variegata

    IUCN Species Status
    IUCN species profile
  • Peruvian Booby Sula variegata

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account
  • Red-footed Booby Sula sula

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile
  • Red-footed Booby Sula sula

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account
  • Red-footed Booby Sula sula

    IUCN Species Status
  • Red-footed Booby Sula sula

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Red-footed Booby Sula sula

    Species Account
    The red-footed booby (Sula sula) is a large seabird of the booby family, Sulidae. As suggested by the name, adults always have red feet, but the colour of the plumage varies. They are powerful and agile fliers, but they are clumsy in takeoffs and landings. They are found widely in the tropics, and breed colonially in coastal regions, especially islands.
  • Red-footed Booby Sula sula

    Cornell Species Account
    The Red-footed Booby is the nominate member of the genus Sula, i.e., the genus Sula was created, by Carl Linneaus, for the first specimen of the Red-footed Booby collected in 1766 on Barbadoes in the West Indies.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 10

Useful Reading
  • Pelicans, Cormorants and their Relatives - The Pelicaniformes

    by J Bryan Nelson, illustrated by John Busby, Andrew Mackay and Bas Teunis OUP 2005
    See Fatbirder Review ISBN: 0198577273 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Seabirds

    by Peter Harrison - Helm 1985 ISBN: 071363510X Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Atlantic Gannet

    Bryan Nelson - Fenix Books Ltd 2nd Edition 2002
    See Farbirder Review ISBN: 095411910X Buy this book from NHBS.com
Organisations
  • Southern Oceans Seabird Study Association

    Website
    SOSSA was founded by members of the New South Wales Albatross Study Group (NSWASG) in 1994. It was set up to be an umbrella organisation for many study groups concerned with studies of Southern Ocean bio-diversity. SOSSA is a wildlife research and conservation group which consists of dedicated people both professional and amateur. These people share a common interest and concern for the environment and the wildlife of the Southern Oceans
  • The Seabird Group

    Website
    The Seabird Group, a registered charity, was founded in 1966 to promote and help coordinate the study and conservation of seabirds
Other Links
  • Seabird Osteology

    Website
    The Seabirds Skull Gallery, existing since 2002, has only been changed a bit and was given a new name that covers the subject more properly. After two years working on this site it is not only skulls anymore that are shown. Regular visitors have already noticed that since December 2004 the scope has widened. It now includes also other parts of the seabird skeleton. In the Seabird Osteology section general aspects of seabird osteology are treated and in the species section you willl find a listing of families and groups with links to pages on skeletons of particular species or groups. There is always work in progress, which means that there will be additions and improvements from time to time…
Photographers & Artists
  • Brown Booby Sula leucogaster

    Webpage
    Image
  • Nazca Booby Sula granti

    Gallery
    Images

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