Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Abbott's booby pairs stay together through successive seasons and nest colonially between April and October (5). A single egg is laid into a nest constructed from leafy twigs and both parents take it in turns to incubate the egg during the 56 day period; much longer than for other members of this family (6). Breeding occurs from about eight years of age and life expectancy may be up to 40 years (4). Breeding success averages around 30 percent and one pair will rear roughly two offspring every 9.5 years (5). These seabirds feed on fish and squid (4), presumably by plunge diving (5). Adults return to feed their young in the late afternoon and early evening (5), and it is likely that Abbott's boobies rely on cold upwellings near to Christmas Island where there is a seasonal abundance of food (6).
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Description

Abbott's booby is a large slender-bodied, black-and-white seabird. The head, neck and underparts are white whilst the black upperwing has white flecking and a narrow white leading edge (4). The white lower back and rump are blotched with black and the pointed tail is also black (5). In juveniles the wing and tail are brown in colour (2). In males the bill is a vivid blue-grey, tipped with black (5), whereas in the female it is pink and also tipped with black (5). Both sexes have deep grey legs and feet (4).
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Distribution

Range Description

Papasula abbotti breeds only on Christmas Island (to Australia), though it once had a much wider distribution in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. One female was recently observed on Rota Island (Northern Mariana Islands to USA), though it is not known whether it is vagrant or a solitary resident (Pratt et al. 2009). The population was estimated at 2,300 pairs in 1967, declining to 1,900 pairs by 1983. Newly discovered breeding sites brought the total to an estimated 2,500 active pairs, following a survey in 1991 (Yorkston and Green 1997), which is regarded as the most accurate and comprehensive to date (James 2007). A helicopter survey in 2002 recorded about 1,500 active nest sites (Commonwealth of Australia 2004), but the results were not verified by ground-based surveys (James 2007). Overall, it seems that the breeding population was more or less stable between 1991 and 2002 (Commonwealth of Australia 2004, P. Green per D. James and M. Jeffery in litt. 2005), but the survey techniques are not directly comparable (D. James in litt. 2005, 2007, James 2007). The species's breeding cycle takes 15-18 months, meaning that successful pairs nest once every two years whilst unsuccessful pairs may breed in successive years or take 'rest years', thus only a proportion of the breeding population breeds in a given year, and this is dependent on nesting success in the previous year (James 2007). Thus in 2000, following on from the 1991 survey, the total population of mature individuals was put at c.6,000. It disperses within the Indian Ocean. Recent records from the Banda Sea indicate either a major extension of its known range or unknown breeding colonies.

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Historic Range:
Indian Ocean_Christmas Island

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Range

Christmas I. (e Indian Ocean).
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Range

Believed to be previously widespread in the Indian Ocean, although breeding is restricted to Christmas Island. Long absences from the island suggest that foraging may occur far from this area and sightings have recently been reported off Java and northwest Australia (5).
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Physical Description

Type Information

Type for Sula abbotti Ridgway
Catalog Number: USNM 128761
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Birds
Sex/Stage: Male; Adult
Preparation: Skin: Whole
Collector(s): W. Abbott
Year Collected: 1892
Locality: Assumption Island, Aldabra Islands, Seychelles, Indian Ocean
  • Type: Ridgway. August 16, 1893. Proc. U.S. Nat. Mus. 16: 599.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It nests in tall rainforest trees, mostly above 150 m elevation in the western, central and northern areas of Christmas Island (Commonwealth of Australia 2004), and lays one egg. Most successful parents can only breed biennally. It may first breed at eight years of age, and its average lifespan may be c.40 years. It feeds at sea on squid and fish. The at sea distribution of this species is poorly known. It was previously thought that cold water upwellings south of Java could be important feeding areas for breeding boobies (Commonwealth of Australia 2004, Olsen 2005), however tracking studies seem to indicate that they simply forage within 40-100 km of Christmas Island and show no association with any clear oceanographic features (D. James in litt. 2005, 2007).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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Foraging occurs in the waters of the Indian Ocean, whilst breeding is in rainforest on the plateau and higher terraces of Christmas Island (5). Nests are constructed in tall, emergent rainforest trees (6), especially those with access from the northwest into the prevailing wind (5). Trees preferentially have an open canopy and interwoven terminal growth, which helps to support juveniles (5).
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
B2ab(ii,iii,v)

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s
Garnett, S., Green, P., Hennicke, J., James, D., Jeffery, M., Low, T. & O'Dowd, D.

Justification
This species breeds in the limited suitable habitat of just one area of a very small island, and it has a small population which has declined rapidly owing to the effects of past habitat clearance. Recent die-back of some of the breeding habitat indicates that habitat quality continues to decline, although it is unclear whether this die-back has been caused by introduced yellow crazy ants. Because of the significance of even minimal declines in habitat quality within the limited breeding habitat of this booby, it is listed as Endangered.


History
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Critically Endangered (CR)
  • Critically Endangered (CR)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Threatened (T)