AppearanceThis is the largest booby, at 74–91 cm long, with a 137–165 cm wingspan and 1.2–2.35 kg weight. Adults are white with pointed black wings, a pointed black tail, and a dark grey facemask. The sexes are similar, but the male has a yellow bill, and the female's is greenish yellow; during the breeding season they have a patch of bare, bluish skin at the base of the bill. Juveniles are brownish on the head and upperparts, with a whitish rump and neck collar. The underparts are white. Adult plumage is acquired over two years.
The masked booby is silent at sea, but has a reedy whistling greeting call at the nesting colonies. While on the breeding grounds, these birds display a wide range of hissing and quacking notes.
NamingIt is also called the masked gannet or the blue-faced booby.
BehaviorMasked boobies are spectacular divers, plunging diagonally into the ocean at high speed. They mainly eat small fish, including flying fish. This is a fairly sedentary bird, wintering at sea, but rarely seen far away from the breeding colonies. However, Caribbean birds occasionally wander north to warm southern Gulf Stream waters off the eastern seaboard of the United States. More remarkably, there have been three western Palaearctic records of masked booby, presumably "dactylatra", all from Spanish waters, although one of these also entered French territorial areas.
ReproductionThe masked booby nests in small colonies, laying two chalky white eggs on sandy beaches in shallow depressions, which are incubated by both adults for 45 days. In most cases, the first chick will kill its smaller, weaker sibling after it hatches. Siblicide has been well studied in this species; researchers such as David Anderson have demonstrated that while the boobies can manage to feed two chicks if siblicide is prevented, they do so at a steep penalty to health and future reproductive success.
Compared to other species of boobies such as the blue-footed booby, siblicide is obligatory in the masked booby. One reason is because the masked boobies build very shallow flat nests, so older chicks can expel their younger siblings with relative ease. Blue-footed booby parents, meanwhile, build nests with steeper sides, thus preventing some older chicks from engaging in siblicidal behaviour.
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