Boobies are birds. Boobies are also people who are not considered very smart, who are dunces, fools. The two are related, by name at least. The word booby is from the Spanish word, bobo, which means fool. From Spanish to English a name for a person who acted like a fool became booby.
Boobies, the feathered ones, are goose-sized birds with heavy stream-lined bodies, long pointed wings with a span of approximately five feet, long wedge-shaped tails, straight sharp bills and webbed feet. They are sea birds, tropical seas. One species, the blue-footed booby, is an occasional visitor to the Salton Sea in southern California. Another, the brown booby is seen occasionally along the Florida Keys and the Gulf Coast.
Boobies feed on fish which they catch by diving from forty or fifty feet above the water, sometimes even higher. They often catch flying fish, snatching these fish out of the air as they are about to reenter the water.
Gulls often follow ships, when they are near a shore, getting fish that rise to the surface behind a passing ship and also getting garbage thrown overboard from the ship, something that was prevalent when I served on a ship while in the Navy. Boobies, I read (I never saw a booby while I was on a ship at sea) fly back and forth in front of ships, catching flying fish that are disturbed by a ship, emerge from the water and glide over the water ahead of a ship.
Boobies also landed on ships occasionally, in the rigging of sailing vessels. Completely unafraid of men, one of the birds would remain perched when a sailor climbed up to it, even letting the sailor reach out and grab it. Because this appeared to the sailors to be foolish, dumb, sailors called them boobies.
Boobies do not nest at sea of course. They nest in colonies or rookeries in trees on land. There was a colony of red-footed boobies on the north side of the Hawaiian Island of Oahu when I was in the Navy assigned to a ship whose home port was Pearl Harbor. I visited that rookery a number of times. The nests were on the tops of trees that were only seven or eight feet tall. There I proved to myself that the name is appropriate. I could, and did, walk up to several nests when there was a bird on the nest, incubating, and the bird never flushed. Even when I reached out and touched a booby it didn’t flush. But the first one I touched stabbed me with that long, sharp bill. I touched other boobies after that blood-letting but I jerked my hand back the instant the bird started to strike.
A friend’s son recently visited the Galapagos Islands where he saw blue-footed boobies. He told his dad, his dad told me. That reminded me of a time my wife and I went on a quest to see a blue-footed booby. Not on the Galapogos Islands. But blue-footed boobies are uncommon, occasional visitors to the Salton Sea in southern California and we went there. We stayed for a month, living in our motor home at the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, working as volunteers.
We didn’t go to the Salton Sea just to see a blue-footed booby. We went to see other birds that are there in winter and to get out of Indiana in winter. We made a list of birds we particularly wanted to see and the top bird on our wanna-see list was blue-footed booby.
We did not see a blue-footed booby at the Salton Sea. The time we were there was not one of the occasions when a blue-footed booby visited. But we saw other birds including Mountain Plover, which was then a species we had never seen before. We did not see any snow or ice.