Thursday, March 3, 2011

Meet the Blue-Footed Booby

I've never met a blue-footed booby. And juvenile jokes aside, I have to admit that I've never met a booby of any colour. Therefore I am, in most respects, utterly ignorant on all things blue-footed booby-esque. Everything I know comes from two sources - Wikipedia, and James Tate.

Let's start with Wikpedia. This critical mass of collective online wisdom tells us that the blue-footed booby (or BFB, as I now intend to call it) is a bird from the sulidae family, which comprises long-winged seabirds. It's a decent size - about 6kg, on average – and the lady-boobies are slightly bigger than the boy-boobies.

Also, this happy little guy was called a booby after the Spanish word for "stupid person", on account of its clumsiness. Nice.

So far, so good. We've got a clumsy seabird with an unkind nickname, and we have to assume it's got blue feet.

Wikipedia also tells us that the BFB tends to hang out around the islands of the South American Pacific coast, including (but not exclusive to) the Galapagos Islands. Which is cool. I've never been to the Galapagos Islands, but apparently they're quite an experience, what with the turtles and all. So our BFB is quite exotic, it would seem, and better-travelled than most.

Then the Wiki article heads into all sorts of semi-rude stuff, like mating dances and egg-laying. Plus there's a bit of parenting thrown in there, such as the need for the incubating pair (Mum and Dad both have a turn, so they're obviously quite modern parents) to actually use their famous feet to keep the chicks warm. Their famous blue feet, as it happens. Their famous blue feet that the show-off boy-BFB flaps around in an effort to get the girl-BFB to sleep with him.

Personally, I don't know what all the BBF fuss is about. Photos of this specimen portray it as a seagull with plastic Mr Potatohead webbed feet, which is cute and faintly ridiculous, and as such entirely supports the Spanglish nickname, in my view.

Then Wikipedia talks about the diet of the BFB, which is ... anyone? Anyone? Yes! Fish! Who'd have thought! Apparently it hunts for fish on its own, or in pairs, or in large groups. In other words, if it sees a fish, it doesn't stop to consider its current social situation - it just goes and gets it. So to largish, clumsy, exotic, faintly ridiculous, and fair-minded in matters of gender roles, we can add pragmatic. Nice.

The Wikipedia BFB entry has a sub-section entitled “Pop Culture”, within which there are only two references listed. One is in the wonderful book “Galapagos”, by the late, great Kurt Vonnegut. The other is in the poem by James Tate, entitled “The Blu Booby”. It is to this poem that I now wish to draw your attention.

I won’t quote the entire poem – it is a very simple matter indeed to google “James Tate” and “Blue Booby”, and you’ll find that someone else will have cut and pasted it already. Besides, I only want to highlight part of the last stanza. This bit, in fact, which refers to the female blue-footed booby:

she sees he has found her
a new shred of blue foil:
for this she rewards him
with her dark body,
the stars turn slowly
in the blue foil beside them
like the eyes of a mild savior.

It’s a beautiful description of a mysterious and little-known bird. And really, when you think about it, it’s pretty much all we need to know.
(For Facebook Notes readers: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good to see you back in Blogland, James.