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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 in length, its wingspan measures up to 150 cm, and they can weigh up to 1,300 g. The male booby reaches about 75 centimetres (30 in) in length, its wingspan measures up to 140 cm, and they can weigh up to 1,000 g.
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The breeding range extends through Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Niue, Wallis and Futuna, Vanuatu and the Santa Cruz Islands.
The brown booby was described by the French polymath Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon in his Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux in 1781. The bird was also illustrated in a hand-coloured plate engraved by François-Nicolas Martinet in the Planches Enluminées D'Histoire Naturelle which was produced under the supervision of Edme-Louis Daubenton to accompany Buffon's text.
Buffon did not include a scientific name with his description but in 1783 the Dutch naturalist Pieter Boddaert coined the binomial name Pelecanus leucogaster in his catalogue of the Planche Enluminées. The type locality is Cayenne in French Guiana.
The current genus Sula was introduced by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760. The word Sula is Norwegian for a gannet; the specific leucogaster is from Ancient Greek leuko for "white" and gastēr for "belly".
There are four recognised subspecies:
• S. l. leucogaster (Boddaert, 1783) – Caribbean and Atlantic Islands
• S. l. brewsteri Goss, 1888 – Pacific coasts of USA and Mexico
• S. l. etesiaca Thayer & Bangs, 1905 – Pacific coasts of Central America and Colombia
• S. l. plotus (Forster, JR, 1844) – Red Sea through the Indian Ocean to the west and central Pacific
The booby's head and upper body (back) is covered in dark brown or black, with the remainder (belly) being a contrasting white. The juvenile form is gray-brown with darkening on the head, wings and tail. While these birds are typically silent, bird watchers have reported occasional sounds similar to grunting or quacking. Their beaks are quite sharp and contain many jagged edges. They have short wings and long, tapered tails.
This species breeds on islands and coasts in the pantropical areas of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. They frequent the breeding grounds of the islands in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. This bird nests in large colonies, laying two chalky blue eggs on the ground in a mound of broken shells and vegetation. It winters at sea over a wider area.
Brown booby pairs may remain together over several seasons. They perform elaborate greeting rituals, and are also spectacular divers, plunging into the ocean at high speed. They mainly eat small fish or squid which gather in groups near the surface and may catch leaping fish while skimming the surface.
Although they are powerful and agile fliers, they are particularly clumsy in takeoffs and landings; they use strong winds and high perches to assist their takeoffs.