(Editor’s note: Alison Green, senior marine biologist at The Nature Conservancy, is spending the next two weeks diving and exploring Palmyra Atoll as part of the first marine assessment of the atoll. Follow her posts from Palmyra on Cool Green Science…and learn more about the expedition.)
One of the most endearing aspects of Palmyra is the booby birds. More than 20,000 nest on the atoll, and they are everywhere.
Is there anything cuter than a baby booby bird? Large white balls of fluff perched in the trees and on the ground, all watching you with that slightly crazed look in their eyes.
While the adults are quite refined, the juveniles are anything but. They are extremely curious and follow us around everywhere we go in the boats, flying low over our heads. If we put our hands up, they try to peck at our fingers or land on them. They also love to peck at the antennae on our dive boat, Zenobia, and if we are moving slowly enough, they come in and take turns pecking at the antennae in mid-air.
On Palmyra, we consider it good luck to be pooped on by a booby bird. But since there are so many of them, and they hover over us, it’s a really good idea to keep your mouth closed when you look up!
But perhaps the funniest thing is the way they land and put their heads under the water to watch us while we are diving. The first time I saw this I thought: “What on earth is that?” And then I realized — those crazy birds had followed us underwater as well!
(Images: Top: A fluff ball (a baby red-footed booby bird). Bottom: A red-footed booby above our dive boat. Credit: Kydd Pollock/TNC; Kim Hum/TNC.)