Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Brown Booby - Sula leucogaster
SULIDAE Members:
Search Common:                 Search Scientific:
General Comments The Brown Booby is (or at least was a few years ago) a rarer bird off our coast than is the Masked Booby, even though both species breed in good numbers in the West Indies. For whatever reason, the Brown Booby is not as prone to wander northward to the mid-Atlantic coast; and it was an embarrassingly late entry onto the North Carolina bird list, not having been recorded until 1979. As of 2022, there are now well over 55 state records, with an average now of one-two records a year in our waters. As with that species, a handful of reports have come from shore; quite shocking was one that was not only found well inland, but lingered at that site for many months. An additional handful of records have now come from the Piedmont, whereas the Masked Booby is not yet known from inland sites. A few reports of Brown Boobies possibly refer to misidentified immature Northern Gannets.
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, but there are quite a few records from shore, including birds perched on land or on markers/buoys. Very rare to now rare (and slightly increasing) from late May to late Aug; casual to mid-Apr and to mid-Sep. Just four conclusive records from Oct to early Apr -- a sub-adult seen (but not photographed) at Beaufort Inlet (Carteret), 18 Dec 2016 [Chat 82:57 link]; an adult female photographed on the beach just north of Oregon Inlet on 18 Mar 2019; a sub-adult on the beach at Cape Hatteras Point (Dare) on 29 Nov 2021; and an adult photographed in flight 53 miles SSE of the southern tip of Ocracoke Island (Hyde) on 30 Dec 2021. There are a few more records in late April and the first half of May. A few previous winter season reports of boobies (Brown and/or Masked) have not been accepted due to confusion with the abundant-in-winter Northern Gannet. Peak counts: 2-3, an adult and one or two juveniles, off Hatteras, 28 Aug 2020; all of the other records refer to single individuals only. Coastal records are for Dare, Hyde, Carteret, Onslow, New Hanover, and Brunswick. No far inland records.
Piedmont Casual, with five records. An adult female was seen and photographed on many dates at Lookout Shoals Lake (Catawba and Iredell) from 28 May - 5 Dec 2016* [Chat 80:108-109 link] [Chat 80:142 link]. A second adult, determined to be a different individual by photo examination, was photographed at Lake Tillery (Stanly) on 20 Aug 2016. The latter report has not yet been reviewed by the NC BRC. A juvenile was photographed at Lake Norman (Mecklenburg/Iredell) on 27-28 Jun 2020, pending review by the NC BRC. Stunning was one photographed "sitting atop a chicken coop" in Stanly, 28 Sep 2020 [Chat 85:30)! link] Lastly, a juvenile was photographed on three dates from 12 Aug - 6 Oct 2021 on the Pee Dee River just south of Morrow Mountain SP (Montgomery/Stanly).
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips As with other rare pelagic species, you will have to take dozens of trips out of Oregon Inlet or Hatteras Inlet to see one, unless you are very lucky. On rare occasions a Brown Booby is seen along the coastline, such as on a jetty or perched on a channel marker/buoy.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-15], LeGrand[2022-09-12], LeGrand[2022-04-26]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.