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Buffalo’s Brown Booby

Posted on Oct 24, 2013

By now you’ve likely heard of the Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) that has been hanging out near Buffalo in Lake Erie and the Niagara River since being discovered on Monday, October 7. It may be gone at the moment with no sightings being reported since Tuesday, October 22. This extreme rarity, an adult female believed to be a first for the Great Lakes and Ontario, has been enjoyed by probably thousands of birders on both sides of the border by this point. She primarily stays on distant locations in the water associating with Double-crested Cormorants. As a species the Brown Booby has been popping up in unexpected areas in the last few years, especially on the northeast Atlantic coast. There was even one individual that entertained area birders back in my neck of the woods in coastal Fairfield County, Connecticut last year. That bird did not appear to be in good health and likely succumbed to its ailments. In this case this female seems to be in good shape.

There may not have been a major tropical event recently but her appearance coincided with a strong south to north flow associated with a cold front featuring a powerful low level jet that could have aided in moving her from the Gulf of Mexico to this area. This frontal passage occurred, not coincidentally, in the early hours of October 7. If you look at this graphic from the Upton New York office of the National Weather Service discussing the front approaching the New York City tri-state area we can note a few things.


First, keep in mind that the cyclonic flow of a low pressure center (that big L) moves in a counter-clockwise direction. The blue line is the cold front itself with warmth and moisture being brought up ahead of it in this cyclonic flow represented by the thunderstorm icons. That arrow shows the moisture streaming north essentially all the way from the Gulf of Mexico, an area where one could definitely find a Brown Booby wandering around. This strong flow was particularly potent near the surface and, if I recall correctly, had a low level jet with winds up to near 70 knots. It would certainly be enough to help transport a bird of that size to our area!  The approaching low and changing winds, temperature and so forth would definitely encourage a bird that had just traveled thousands of miles to stop and take a break to eat and rest. Being anywhere near the Great Lakes in the air would allow her to spot way an enormous body of water filled with many fish to dive for – namely, Lake Erie. Having hundreds or thousands of Double-crested Cormorants there would be all the more reason to stick around a while.

On Sunday, October 13 I dug her out of the crowd of hundreds of cormorants on “Donnelly’s Pier” after she popped into our sight line. I had spent the day surveying for the Buffalo Ornithological Society’s October Count in Section 11, and after over two hours of Booby watching I called off her position to other birders gathered who verified my tired eyes weren’t seeing things! Her bright belly blended in to the pier but once you saw her move and flash her bill, you recognized her. I snapped off these iPhone digiscoped record shots of her facing forward while sitting on the pier and then facing to her right in the middle of preening from my spot in the Erie Basin Marina tower about 1,000 yards away.



A few minutes later she flew back down on the other side of this pier out of sight of birders once again. Check the Genesee Birds list serv for constant updates, better photos taken from boats, and very specific and helpful directions on how to find her. She’s a difficult tick and typically quite far (unless you’re in a boat) but definitely worth the wait if you’re in the area. We can’t be sure if she’s still present at the moment, and I would guess that the sudden drop in temperature combined with Double-crested Cormorants continually leaving the area and now lake effect snowfall occurring would inspire her to move back to the south or the Atlantic. We had 1.5 inches of snowfall in Jamestown this morning and that is decidedly anti-booby weather.


Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator

Photo 1 © National Weather Service; photos 2-3 © Scott Kruitbosch