The Beauty of the Blue-Footed Booby

“With no real predators, the birds live proud, public lives. That accessibility has proved a bonanza for scientists, casting light on their mating habits and even why the shade of their feet matters. The birds move with comic grace… like  hobo swells in oversize shoes. The male faces the female and slowly, slowly lifts up one foot, sets it down and lifts the other. Check out my feet! They’re blue. Really, really blue. The female mirrors his ponderous moves. Mine are blue, too.” N. Angier, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Blue- Footed Booby. image savenature


Excerpt: On Galápagos, Revealing the Blue-Footed Booby’s True Colors, By Natalie Angier, The NYT

“He leans over, spreads his wings wide, points his bill at the sky and whistles breathily, as if blowing on a toy flute. She grunts and totters up to him, and they clack bills. He grabs a pebble, and they clack bills again; he drops the pebble and spears a twig. Clack, whistle, grunt, whistle. And suddenly, she backs away. Desperate, the male solemnly starts high-stepping again, displaying his beautiful teal-blue feet. But the courtship has fizzled, and when the female again lifts up a foot in response, it looks as if she’s waving goodbye.

Blue Footed Boobies dancing . image-nikonian


It’s dating time here for the blue-footed booby. Everywhere, dozens of times a day, the large, handsome seabirds are making their highly ritualized courtship display — one reason the boobies are among the most celebrated and beloved residents of this archipelago. 

Blue-footed boobies, which hit the water at 60 miles per hour, hunting in the Galápagos archipelago.Credit Tui De Roy:Minden Pictures

They are also feeding voraciously and spectacularly, circling high over the water, alert for the slightest flicker of fish, and then freezing in midair for a fraction of a second before dropping headfirst onto their targets, like missiles falling from a plane.

Research teams from Mexico and the United States have followed populations of the long-lived birds for years…scientists have discovered that the key to a successful long-term booby partnership is the equitable sharing of nest duties year after year…

Blue-Footed Booby image- national geographic

Someone familiar? Someone new? Nonnegotiable: The feet must be blue.

Blue-footed boobies are members of the family Sulidae, a group that includes about 10 species of gannets and boobies and is, by some analyses, part of the larger pelican order. The name booby is thought to come from bobo, the Spanish word for stupid or clown, a reference to the bird’s awkward waddle.

Mom and chicks.

Blue-footed boobies can be found throughout the tropics and subtropics of the eastern Pacific. Though their overall population is not considered endangered, their numbers on the Galápagos have fallen since the 1990s, the result, scientists believe, of a local decline in the sardine stocks that the boobies need to breed.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. The female mirrors his ponderous moves.
  2. The male totters up to her.
  3. They also feed voraciously circling high over the water.
  4. They dive headfirst onto their targets, like missiles.
  5. They squabble with one another over territory and nesting sites.
  6. Scientists find them super fascinating.
  7. The birds are surprisingly confident and capable.
  8. The trait they fixate on is the blue-ness of a partner’s feet.
  9. Boobies generally mate for life.
  10. Among blue-footed boobies, though, sibling violence is provisional.

    ELLteaching 2.0 vocabualry chart

Reading Comprehension


Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences  taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

Biparental ___is the ___among ___ but longtime___have perfected the art of ___and turn-taking. They spend the same time ___and feeding the young, and___the same physical ___as seen in measures of blood cells and body mass.

WORD LIST: effort, boobies, mates, rule, care, expend, brooding, symmetry,

 Grammar Focus:Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

The birds/buds are about the seize/size of large sea gulls, with wingspans up to five feet. Adult males/females are about 20 percent to 30 percent heavier/heavy and stronger than males. Boobies/bodies stay close to home, and if given the change/chance, most will live and breed/brood within a few dozen feet of where they were born. They often hunt/haunt small, schooling fish in flocks, each hitting the water at 60 miles per hour, its brain/brine protected by specialized air sacs in the skull.

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Questions for Comprehension

Directions: Place students in groups Have each group list 3  questions they would like to ask any person mentioned in the article. Groups share questions as a class.

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.


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