Tag Archives: Red-footed Booby

Boobiers Return The Sport Of Kings To Blacktip Island


A red-footed booby waits for the command to hunt from a Blacktip Island Boobying Society boobier at Eagle Ray Cove resort Thursday. (photo courtesy of Charles J. Sharp)

A group of boobiers – Blacktip Island history buffs who have revived the traditional art of hunting with booby birds – will demonstrate their skills Saturday afternoon at Eagle Ray Cove resort to celebrate the nearly 400 years since the Caribbean Island’s discovery.

“Its our cultural heritage, Blacktip’s sport of kings” said Sula Beakins, president of the Blacktip Island Boobying Society. “It started as a lark by a member of the island’s Society for Creative Anachronism, and took off from there.

“The boobies can be tough to train,” Beakins said. “But they already go after fish, so it’s really just a matter of tweaking their instincts.”

Expert opinion on the sport’s historical accuracy is mixed.

“Our records indicate the first governors of Blacktip Island trained the native boobies to chase down fish, much like falcons were trained to hunt in the Old World,” island historian Smithson Altschul said.

“Of course, those records are in Middle English, so the translation may be a bit off,” Altschul added. “But, oh, the sight of a booby taking a blackfin mid-flight, it sends chills down your spine!”

Boobiers emphasize the sport’s ties to falconry.

“As with falcons, we start training our boobies when they’re young,” Beakins said. “As soon as they lose their baby down, really, and can fly reasonably well.

“It takes about a year to fully train them,” Beakins said. “We get them going after snapper at first, then work up to grouper and small mahi.”

Standard booby gear consists of bark-covered gauntlets for the boobies to perch on, as well as GPS trackers so hunters can find them.

“We all wear raincoats and goggles, too,” Beakins added. “Those birds poop up a storm, usually when you least expect it.”

The highlight of Saturday’s demonstration will be the competition between the island’s red-footed boobies and brown boobies from nearby Tiperon Island.

“It’s the great argument in the boobying community – which booby is the best hunter,” boobying aficionado Gage Hoase said. “Most serious boobiers see that as a false dichotomy, though.

“It’s a speed vs. agility thing,” Hoase said. “Like a pitting a peregrine versus a gyrfalcon. The brown boobies are better at mackerelly fish, the red-footed are best with tuna family.”

The boobying is not without critics.

“It’s inhumane, capturing wild birds, torturing them until they chase down fish, then taking the fish from them,” said Blacktip’s People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president Harry Pickett. “And then there’s all the safety mishaps boobiers cover up. It’s a dirty, dirty sport.”

Booby enthusiasts insist they’re sensitive to those concerns.

“We’re not running around grabbing wild boobies willy-nilly,” Beakins said. “The first boobies we trained were injured chicks that wouldn’t have survived in the wild. And from that pair, we’ve started a captive breeding program. No wild boobies have ever been harmed or molested.

“Safety-wise, sure, there was an incident where a booby stooped on a small child with fish-shaped barrettes in her hair,” Beakins said. “That was unfortunate, but the booby was only following its instincts. And it let her go, eventually, which speaks to the excellence of our training. It’s a blood sport. You have to expect the occasional bloody nose.”

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Blacktip Island Braces For Booby Days

booby days

The dried surface of Blacktip Island’s booby pond will be the site of Sunday’s Booby Days race celebrating the Caribbean island’s resident booby bird population. (photo courtesy of Sula Beakins)

The first weekend in May brings the annual Booby Days to Blacktip Island, celebrating the island’s most numerous and most popular residents, the goofy-footed booby birds.

“People come from all around the globe to see these birds,” said Sula Beakins, Blacktip Booby Benevolence League president. “They’re Blacktip Island’s life blood.

“There’s only about 100 people here, but there’s thousands of boobies,” Beakins said. “There was even a push a few years back to rename Blacktip ‘Booby Island,’ but the island council thought that’d give potential visitors the wrong impression.”

As ever, the weekend’s highlight will be Sunday’s race across the island’s dried central pond, to the booby rookery and back again.

“It’s tougher than it looks, and dangerous,” said 2015 winner Edwin Chub. “That mud’s a dried crust on top of sharp ironshore. It looks flat, but there’s all kinds of cavities and crevasses underneath.

“We race in the traditional manner, with tennis rackets strapped to our feet,” Chub said. “We also have to fight our way through a line of folks dressed as frigate birds. It’s a bit like ‘sharks and minnows,’ just stinkier.”

“The nesting boobies’ll peck king hell out of racers on the other side,” Beakins said. “But that’s added incentive to hightail it back.”

Public health officials require all participants to wear full-face respirators to guard against inhaling any dried booby pond dust.

“In the rainy season that pond’s liquid, but there’s damn-little water in it,” said Public Health Director Stoney MacAdam. “That’s generations of dried-up rotted vegetation, dead fish and bird poop. There’s diseases out there that don’t have names yet.”

Participants are also required to tie a long rope to their waist to facilitate body recovery should they fall.

“You go down out there, you’re history,” MacAdam said. “And ain’t no one going out to get you.”

Other weekend activities include a mackerel rundown cook off, a booby-petting booth for children and the ever-popular soused herring-eating contest.

“We serve up raw herring, just like a booby would eat it, but with diced onions,” Beakins said. “Whoever eats the most in a minute, keeps it down for five minutes and hasn’t got food poisoning in four hours wins the coveted Booby Prize.”

The celebration is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control.


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Booby Trot A Rousing Success

Blacktip Island's red-footed boobies were the beneficiaries of Thursday's Booby Trot.

Blacktip Island’s red-footed boobies were the beneficiaries of Thursday’s Booby Trot.

In conjunction with American Thanksgiving, the Blacktip Booby Bird Benevolence League staged Blacktip Island’s 13th annual 5K Booby Trot Thursday, with entry fees going to preservation of red-footed booby habitat on the island.

The foot race followed its usual course from Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort to Eagle Ray Cove.

“It’s not quite 5K, but our attorneys advised us not to ask anyone on this island to run five kilometers,” event organizer Sula Beakins said. “Blacktip doesn’t have enough medical staff or infrastructure to handle anything like that. Nowhere in the Caribbean does.

“It’s a delicate business picking a starting time, as well. It has to be late enough for last night’s partiers to participate, but not so late in the morning to interfere with the next day’s parties.”

Running in costume was optional, but strongly encouraged. Only one of the 24 contestants arrived at the starting line dressed as a booby, but was unable to compete due to an unidentified woman dressed as a frigate bird pouncing on him and forcing him to disgorge his breakfast.

As ever, all participants were required to wear red sneakers, boots or flip-flops. Barefoot runners were required to dye their feet red.

The top finishers were:

  • 1st Place            Reg Gurnard
  • 2nd Place            Christina Mojarra
  • 3rd Place            Edwin Chub

Special Mention went to Billy and Lucille Ray, who completed the run in three-legged race fashion – with Mr. Ray’s right leg tied to Mrs. Ray’s left leg – in full scuba gear.

“I’m proud to run for the boobies,” Reg Gurnard said after winning. “This island’s boobies need all the support we can give them.”

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