Abbott's Booby

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Image:Abbott's Booby.JPG

Common Name: Abbott’s Booby
Scientific Name: Papasula abbotti

Size: 39 inches (79 cm); 190 cm wingspan

Habitat: Oceania; Christmas Island (an Australian territory in the eastern Indian Ocean). The Abbott's Booby now breeds only on Christmas Island, Indian Ocean, although formerly it bred on other Indian Ocean islands. At sea, it is mainly seen in the waters around Christmas Island.

Status: Endangered. Global Population: 6,000 mature individuals and decreasing. During 1965-1987, phosphate extraction resulted in the destruction of approximately one third of nesting habitat. Some trees in nesting areas have degenerated, but the extent of this is unquantified. In addition, exotic plants that have colonized and been introduced to old mine sites may invade existing forest and threaten habitat rehabilitation. Future habitat loss is possible through clearance for mining. In 2007, significant patches of mature secondary forest were cleared for mining. Also in 2007, a new application to mine a 250 ha area of rainforest was turned down, but has subsequently gone to appeal. Plans for a satellite launch pad on the island are not proceeding at present. The effect of satellite launches on this species is unknown. Breeding boobies are vulnerable to extreme weather events. In 1988, a cyclone destroyed a third of monitored fledglings and nest-sites. In wind-affected areas, increased turbulence causes higher adult mortality and reduces fledging success. Artificial forest clearings, e.g. for roads and buildings, also cause wind turbulence. Possibly the most serious threat is the introduced yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes) which formed super-colonies during the 1990s and spread rapidly to cover 28% of the forest on the island. However, control efforts have been successful, and at the beginning of 2005 there were an estimated 300 ha with A. gracilipes present on Christmas Island, with densities considerably lower than prior to control. Despite the successes, in 2006 the ants were regarded as widespread and patchily common. Allowed to spread uncontrolled ant super-colonies may prey directly on nestlings or cause nest abandonment. However, there have been no observations of ants preying on the species, and comparison of ant distribution and densities with P. abbotti distribution showed no sign of nest abandonment in ant-infested areas. Super-colonies alter island ecology by killing the dominant life-form, the red crab (Gecaroidea natalis), and by farming scale insects which damage trees. A. gracilipes occurs from below ground-level to the canopy where P. abbotti nests. There are signs of forest die-back in a small area of breeding habitat, which may be indirectly caused or exacerbated by A. gracilipes, but its impact is unlikely to be severe. Less specific threats include over-fishing and marine pollution. In addition, climate change may threaten the species through changes to sea surface temperatures, rainfall patterns and El Niño Southern Oscillation, although it is unlikely to be affected by sea level rise as it nests above 100 m. At sea, birds may suffer from direct hunting and by-catch, but this has not been documented. If some birds feed close to Java this could bring them into contact with Taiwanese and Indonesian fisheries.

Diet: Fish and squid.

Breeding: Dark eye and dark-tipped bill, pale grey in male, pink in female. White head, neck and most of under parts. Black upper wing with white flecking on coverts and narrow white leading edge. Black thigh patch and tail. Black patch on mantle and back continuous with wings, remainder white. Grey legs and feet. Juvenile similar to adult male.

Parent birds may only be able to breed from about eight years old, with successful breeding no more frequently than once every two years, and a potential lifespan of 40 years.

The species nests in emergent trees in rainforest, with pairs laying a single egg, mainly in June or July. Growth of the chick is slow, with most making their first flight in December or January, and remaining dependent on the parent birds for food for about the next 230 days.

Cool Facts: It is the sole living member of the monotypic genus Papasula. This species is named for William Louis Abbott who discovered it on Assumption Island in 1892.

Found in Songbird ReMix Seabirds Volume 2

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