Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Masked Booby - Sula dactylatra
SULIDAE Members:
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General Comments As with the tropicbirds, the three boobies recorded in North Carolina waters -- Masked, Brown, and Red-footed -- also are rare enough, and spectacular enough, to always generate excitement when seen on a pelagic trip. Tropicbirds when seen well enough are quite different from any other common birds, whereas boobies must first be separated from the quite similar-appearing Northern Gannet, which can linger in our waters into the summer months. In fact, reports of boobies must be carefully made, with photos or a thorough description; many a booby sighting likely refers to a Gannet, especially outside the midsummer months. As with the two tropicbirds, the three booby species breed on tropical and subtropical islands, as close as the West Indies. These five species are closely tied to Gulf Stream or other very warm waters, and each occurs singly or rarely as many as two in a day. The Masked Booby is seen more frequently offshore in the state than is the Brown Booby, whereas the Red-footed Booby is of casual occurrence.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Nonbreeding visitor, mainly offshore in the Gulf Stream. Rare from early Jun to mid-Sep; very rare as early as late May and until late Oct; "peak" from late Jul to late Aug. Peak counts: 3, off Oregon Inlet, 22 Aug 1987; five records of two birds; the remaining reports are all of single individuals. A few onshore records in this same period, with the most significant being one remaining in a Brown Pelican colony in the lower Cape Fear River from 23 Jun to 3 Oct 1981. No far inland records. Perhaps the earliest spring date is 22 Apr 2022, when one was seen from Cape Hatteras Point (Dare); another was also early on the beach at Cape Fear Point (Brunswick) on 27 Apr 2022.
Piedmont No records.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips Finding the Masked Booby in North Carolina is a matter of persistence; you must be prepared to take plenty of pelagic trips in the summer months and hope for the best. Make sure you and others on the boat study the bird carefully, to rule out a Northern Gannet first, and then rule out a Brown Booby. NOTE: The Nazca Booby (Sula granti) has been recently split off from the Masked Booby; however, this "new" species is restricted to the Pacific Ocean.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-15], LeGrand[2022-09-12], LeGrand[2021-09-03]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.