The population of red-footed boobies which inhabit the east side of San Cristobal island, at the visitor site Punta Pitt, has shown a remarkable recovery, with a population increase equivalent to 2164.4% in the last 18 years.
The new population total comes from a census undertaken last week by the Galapagos National Park. Management of the area by the Park has helped the vegetation and food sources to recover, providing the ideal habitat for the boobies to flourish.
The 1998 El Niño had a drastic impact on the red-footed booby population, leaving only 45 birds in Punta Pitt. The recovery of the population was initially slow, however it began to increase more rapidly from 2008, when 279 adult birds were counted.
Carlos Ortega, director of the Technical Unit on San Cristobal, said conservation efforts in controlling invasive species and reducing the numbers of ants, rodents, feral cats and goats had led to the growth of the booby population. Recent population counts recorded 427 adults in 2013, 752 adults in 2015, and now 974 adults recorded in 2016.
Ortega emphasised that the data from the latest monitoring count are encouraging. Punta Pitt now has a total of 1,315 red-footed boobies, of which 974 are adults, 89 are chicks and 252 are juveniles. They also found 32 eggs which are currently being incubated.
The data collected only included birds which were settled either in nests or shrubs. Flying birds were excluded, however if these were included, the total figure for the red-footed booby population would increase by a further 10%.
The red-footed booby, Sula sula, is the smallest of the booby family, and can be distinguished by its bright red feet. They share the area of Punta Pitt with Nazca boobies and blue-footed boobies, however their nesting sites differ. Red-footed boobies nest in bushes, blue-footed boobies nest on the ground, and Nazca boobies nest in the cliff areas.