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February 13, 2024
What happened to the Masked Booby in the Galapagos?
Nazca Booby in Galapagos
Nazca Booby off the coast of San Cristobal Island
Nazca Booby flying near San Cristobal Island

If you visited the Galapagos Islands 25 years ago, 15 years ago, or even 10 years ago, you probably saw guides and naturalists point to a white “masked” looking bird and call it a Masked Booby. But they were wrong. Sort of.

You see, for many decades the Masked Booby was one of the three species seen in the islands (along with the Blue-Footed Booby and Red-Footed Booby).

Since 1902 the Nazca Booby, which breeds and lives in the Galapagos, was only seen to be a subspecies of the Masked Booby. So to point it out and call it a Masked Booby was still correct.

But as with many things, science got curious and doubts began to emerge. On Clipperton Island, far out in the Pacific away from the Galapagos, it was noticed in 1998 that the Masked Boobies and Nazca Boobies breeding on that island do not interbreed. Hmm.

Further investigations led to the Nazca Booby being recognized as having its own unique behaviours and genetics in the early 2000s.

Nazca Booby on a nest with a chick, Espanola Island
Nazca Booby on a nest with a chick, Espanola Island

By 2011, genetic testing proved that the Nazca Booby does indeed have a different DNA than the Masked Booby. With all of that information, the Nazca Booby is now known to be its own species, and it is believed that the Nazca Booby split off genetically as long ago as 1 million years!

While the Masked Booby range does overlap the Nazca Booby in some areas, potentially including the Galapagos Islands, of these two birds you’re likely to only see the Nazca Booby in the Galapagos Islands.

So, that is why most Naturalist Guides will point out the Nazca Booby when you visit the Galapagos Islands now.

Some old guidebooks and websites might talk about the Masked Booby in the Galapagos, but now you know the truth!

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