Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

September 23, 2020

Heroic Efforts Couldn’t Save Wayward Nazca Booby

This injured and weak Nazca Booby landed in Long Beach, CA – far from its usual range. Photo by Angie Trumbo – International Bird Rescue

An unusual tropical patient came into care in September at International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center after being found stranded at the Port of Long Beach. The injured seabird, called a Nazca Booby, was far out of its normal range — some 3,000 miles from its home in the Galapagos Islands — and even more unusual it had a metal leg band that indicated that it had previously been in human hands. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts the bird has died.

On admission, the Nazca Booby was emaciated and quite weak. X-rays showed it had a poorly-healed old wing fracture of the humerus – very close to the shoulder.

We had hoped our staff veterinarian, Dr. Rebecca Duerr, DVM MPVM PhD, might be able to pin the damaged wing area, but the bone was already set in the wrong position. While we were unsure whether the bird was going to be able to fly, our team provided expert care and the booby rallied for more than a week. Into the second week, she took a turn for the worse and died suddenly, despite our best efforts.

Our veterinarian conducted a necropsy to see if we could learn more from this bird. The only significant finding beyond the injuries already seen was kidney problems. It seems that this was a fairly young bird who flew way off track then showed up starving, perhaps due to its wing injury. Her remains will be added to the avian collection at Los Angeles Natural History Museum to propel understanding of the species.

The leg band that she arrived with was of particular interest. We learned that this individual Nazca Booby was part of a long term study of the species that biologists from Wake Forest University Biology Department’s Avian Ecology Group have been conducting in the Galapagos Islands since 1984. According to the group’s leader, Professor of Biology David J. Anderson, PhD, the three-year-old female was banded as a nestling in the 2017-18 breeding season.

Adult Nazca Boobies, five years and older, usually reside in a breeding colony at Punta Cevallos on Isla Espanola, said Anderson. The younger birds – from eight months to five years – wander elsewhere and will generally be seen along the coasts of Nicaraugua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico.

“Reports like yours are valuable for us to know where they spend these years,” said Anderson. “Long Beach [California, USA] is the farthest [sighting] from the colony that has ever been reported!” 

Banded birds, whether in hand or sighted in the field, are a primary mechanism for science to learn about bird migration and dispersal patterns. Bird Rescue bands nearly all of its patients released back to the wild with a metal federal band. In addition, all Brown Pelican patients released back to the wild since 2009 have a unique field readable blue band attached to its opposite leg.

The Nazca Booby (Sula granti) is the largest of the three boobies found in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. They are easily identified by their bright white plumage, black-tipped feathers, and orange beak.

Bird Rescue is honored to have had the chance to help this special booby. We believe Every Bird Matters whether or not they get released. In this instance this bird contributed to science and our further understanding of this species.

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