Volume 48, No. 2

Search by author or title:

Camera trapping reveals cooperative breeding in the Red-footed Booby Sula sula


1UMR ENTROPIE, Faculté des Sciences et Technologies, Université de la Réunion, 15 avenue René Cassin, CS 92003, 97744 Saint Denis Cédex 9, La Réunion, France
2TAAF, 1 rue Gabriel Dejean, 97410 Saint Pierre, La Réunion, France


LE CORRE, M., MANOURY, M., ORLOWSKI, S., BIGNON, F. & DICQUE, G. 2020. Camera trapping reveals cooperative breeding in the Red-footed Booby Sula sula. Marine Ornithology 48: 175 - 178

Received 24 April 2020, accepted 26 May 2020

Date Published: 2020/10/15
Date Online: 2020/06/29
Key words: camera trap, helping behaviour, parental care, seabird, Tromelin Island


Cooperative breeding occurs in only 9% of bird species and is particularly rare among seabirds. We provide evidence that it occurs in a tropical seabird, the Red-footed Booby. Through camera monitoring of active nests, we found one nest in which a chick was raised by a trio of birds: its two parents and an immature bird. The immature bird fed the chick, guarded it, and preened it. The parents did not behave aggressively towards the immature bird when it approached the chick, suggesting that this trio was stable and composed of birds that knew each other. The growth of the chick cared for by the trio was not different from other chicks in the colony, suggesting that being fed by three birds did not result in more food provisioning. We hypothesize that the immature bird was the young of the pair that it was helping and had fledged the previous breeding season, and we discuss this in relation to the exceptionally long post-fledging parental care in this species. The prevalence of this behaviour is unknown and we recommend investigating parental care of boobies and gannets in greater detail to learn more about cooperative breeding among sulids.


CAO, L., ZHAO, G., TANG, S. & GUO, H. 2010. The first reported case of cooperative polyandry in the Red-footed Booby: trio relationships and benefits. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 122: 361-365.

CASTILLO-GUERRERO, J.A., MELLINK E. & AGUILAR A. 2005. Bigamy in the Blue-footed Booby and the Brown Booby? Waterbirds 28: 399-401.

CLUTTON-BROCK, T. 2002. Breeding together: Kin selection and mutualism in cooperative vertebrates. Science 296: 69-71.

COCKBURN, A. 1998. Evolution of helping behaviour in cooperatively breeding birds. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 29: 141-177.

COCKBURN, A. 2006. Prevalence of different modes of parental care in birds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 273: 1375-1383.

DANCKWERTS, D.K. 2017. Scale-specific processes underlying the genetic population structure of seabirds in the tropical western Indian Ocean. PhD thesis. Grahamstown, South Africa: Rhodes University.

DIAMOND, A.W. 1975. Biology and behaviour of frigatebirds Fregata spp. on Aldabra Atoll. Ibis 117: 302-323.

FAYET, A.L., HANZEN, E.S. & BIRO, D. 2020. Evidence of tool use in a seabird. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 117: 1277-1279.

FITCH, M.A. & SHUGART, G.W. 1983. Comparative biology and behaviour of monogamous pairs and one male-two female trios of herring Gulls. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 14: 1-7.

GENOVART, M., LOUZAO, M., IGUAL, J.M. & ORO, D. 2008. Digit length may reveal unusual breeding behaviour in a seabird. Biology Letters 4: 461-464.

GRIESSER, M. & SUZUKI, T.N. 2016. Occasional cooperative breeding in birds and the robustness of comparative analyses concerning the evolution of cooperative breeding. Zoological Letters 2: 7. doi:10.1186/s40851-016-0041-8

GUO, H., CAO, L., PENG, L., ZHAO, Q & TANG, S. 2010. Parental care, development of foraging skills, and transition to independence in the Red-footed Booby. The Condor 112: 38-47.

HART, L.A., DOWNS, C.T. & BROWN, M. 2016. Sitting in the sun: Nest microhabitat affects incubation temperatures in seabirds. Journal of Thermic Biology 60: 149-154.

HATCHWELL, B.J. 2009. The evolution of cooperative breeding in birds: kinship, dispersal and life history. Philosophical Translation of the Royal Society B 364: 3217-3227.

HATCHWELL, B.J. & KOMDEUR, J. 2000. Ecological constraints, life history traits and the evolution of cooperative breeding. Animal Behaviour 59: 1079-1086.

HEMMINGS, A.D. 1994. Cooperative breeding in the skuas (Stercorariidae): History, distribution and incidence. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 24: 245-260.

KOMDEUR, J. 1994. The effect of kinship on helping in the cooperative breeding Seychelles Warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis). Proceedings of the Royal Society, London B 256: 47-52.

LANGEN, T.A. 2000. Prolonged offspring dependence and cooperative breeding in birds. Behavioural Ecology 11: 367-377.

LE CORRE, M. 1996. The breeding seabirds of Tromelin Island, western Indian Ocean, population sizes, trends, and breeding phenology. Ostrich 67: 155-159.

LE CORRE, M. 1999. Plumage polymorphism of Red-footed Booby in the western Indian Ocean, an indicator of biogeographic isolation. Journal of Zoology, London 249: 411-415.

LE CORRE, M., DANCKWERTS, D.K., RINGLER, D. ET AL. 2015. Seabird recovery and vegetation dynamics after Norway Rat eradication at Tromelin Island, western Indian Ocean. Biological Conservation 185: 85-94.

MENDEZ, L., PRUDOR, A. & WEIMERSKIRCH, H. 2017. Ontogeny of foraging behaviour in juvenile Red-footed Boobies (Sula sula). Scientific Reports 7: 13886.

NELSON, J.B. 1978. The Sulidae: Gannets and Boobies. Aberdeen, Scotland: University of Aberdeen.

O'BRIEN, T.G. & KINNAIRD, M.F. 2008. A picture is worth a thousand words: the application of camera trapping to the study of birds. Birdlife Conservation International 18: S144-S162.

O'CONNELL, A.F., NICHOLS, J.D. & KARANTH, K.U. 2011. Camera Traps in Animal Ecology: Methods and Analysis. New York, USA: Springer.

STOLPMANN, L.M., LANDERS, T.J. & RUSSELL, J.C. 2019. Camera trapping of Grey-faced Petrel (Pterodroma gouldi) breeding burrows reveals interactions with introduced mammals throughout the breeding season. Emu Austral Ornithology 119: 391-396.

Search by author or title:

Browse previous volumes: