In Blue-Footed Boobies, Hugh Drummond presents a lifetime field study of one of the planet's most charismatic and observable birds, focused on two themes of human relevance: aggressive competition between siblings and monogamous pair-bonding combined with frequent infidelity. In an account peppered with research anecdotes, he immerses readers in a bustling blue-footed booby colony where social manipulation and life-and-death dramas are the stuff of family life.
Here, dominant elder chicks prefer to bully their siblings into abject submission rather than killing them and younger siblings' susceptibility to subordination is an evolved ability. The narrative expands to survey the colourful strategies used by young birds and mammals to compete with siblings ruthlessly, with restraint or with courtly manners, scrutinize the role of parents in sibling conflict, and assess the lifetime impacts of bullying on those that survive.
Next, a compelling eye-witness account of monogamous partnerships in blue-foots reveals a world disturbingly familiar to humans. After displaying their beauty and physical prowess to each other, females and males select partners and commit to months of relentless parental care, sharing duties and making decisions jointly. Half of them renew their bond the following year, and renewers are more efficient and successful than first-time partners. But colonies of bonded blue-foot pairs are hotbeds of infidelity! Nearly all females and males carry on semi-secret liaisons with 1-3 neighbours, roughly one-third of them copulate repeatedly with those extra partners, and one in ten males ends up caring for another male's chick. Countermeasures include surveillance, aggression and partner-switching, and males unsure of paternity sometimes resort to infanticide. Drummond discusses a panoply of plausible biological functions of infidelity.
Sibling competition and sexual conflict are widespread in animal species in which two partners raise contemporaneous offspring together, and notorious in humans. In the final chapter Drummond argues for a common evolutionary cause in the blue-foot and human lineages, despite the psychology of their behaviour being quite different: whereas boobies thoughtlessly follow routines of predictable actions, humans experience inclinations and urges they can implement in diverse ways, or choose to veto.
Chapter 1. Two Approaches to Controlling and Killing Siblings
Chapter 2. Beating Siblings into Submission
Chapter 3. From Wild Violence to Courtly Rituals
Chapter 4. To Kill or Not to Kill
Chapter 5. Are Parents Okay with Sibling Bullying?
Chapter 6. Bullying and Lifelong Scars
Chapter 7. Happy Marriages with Blue Feet
Chapter 8. Cheating, Infanticide and Egg Dumping
Chapter 9. Are Humans Similar?
List of Common and Systematic Names
Hugh Drummond is an Emeritus Researcher at the Institute of Ecology in Mexicos National University, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM), in Mexico City. Formerly an English lawyer who graduated from the University of Bristol in 1967, he has sustained a research program in Mexico City on the Behavioral Ecology of blue-footed boobies and other marine birds spanning forty years. He has supervised 76 theses and is considered the founder of behavioural ecology in Mexico. He has published nearly 100 research articles on boobies and other marine birds in international journals.