Ascension Island stamp sheet features Red-footed Booby

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AI-WWF-for-PR-83063.jpg More than 400,000 seabirds live on Ascension Island
A sheet of ten stamps from Ascension Island features the Red-footed Booby, one of eleven seabird species to be found on the Atlantic island.

A sheet of ten stamps from Ascension Island features the Red-footed Booby, one of eleven seabird species to be found on the Atlantic island.

The stamps, designed by Andrew Robinson, feature four different photographs of the Red-footed Booby (in 20p, 50p, 55p and £2 values) along with the World Wildlife Fund panda logo.

Ascension Island is one of the most important warm-water seabird stations in the world, and the most important seabird breeding site in the tropical Atlantic, supporting more than 400,000 seabirds of eleven species. Despite this, the island supports only a fraction of the seabirds thought to have been present before the island's colonisation in 1815, when millions of birds were present around Ascension Island.

The Red-footed Booby

The Red-footed booby (Sula sula) is a large seabird of the booby family, Sulidae. Three varieties of these gannet-like birds are found on Ascension. The Masked booby is a large powerful seabird and the largest of the three. The Red-footed booby (length 71 cm with a wingspan of 91-101 cm) is similar in size to the Brown booby but is in fact the smallest member of the booby family.

As suggested by the name, adults always have red feet. They also have pale blue bills but the plumage can vary as the Red-footed booby comes in a confusing array of variations (phases or colour morphs), ranging from individuals that are all white except for blackish on the wing, to individuals that are entirely dark brown. Some birds fail to fit neatly into any of the typical colour morph categories, and many variations exist. Colour morphs do not segregate reproductively or geographically; individuals representing several morphs breed in a single colony. Juveniles are wholly grey brown with yellowish grey legs.

Throughout its range, except on Ascension and Trindade, the Red-footed booby is a tree-nesting species. This would explain the shortness of its legs compared to those of other boobies.

Breeding behaviour

Red-footed booby pairs may remain together over several seasons. They perform elaborate greeting rituals including harsh squawks, the male's display of his blue throat and short dances. They breed on islands in most tropical oceans. When not breeding they spend most of the time at sea, and are therefore rarely seen away from breeding colonies. The female lays just a single egg that is bluish in colour with a chalky covering. It can be variable in shape but averages 63 x 41mm. The eggs are incubated by both adults for 44–46 days. It may be three months before the young first fly, and five months before they make extensive flights.

At Ascension they breed mainly on Boatswainbird Island and various off-shore stacks. Only about thirty individuals of this species are found on Ascension, representing about 10% of the Atlantic population. Red-footed boobies are powerful and agile fliers, but clumsy in take-offs and landings. They are spectacular divers, plunging into the ocean at high speeds to catch prey. They mainly eat small fish or squid which gather in groups near the surface. Flying fish are also taken in flight, especially when being chased by underwater predators.  Like all boobies, the Red-footed booby never carries its prey in its beak. Instead, it always swallows it before flying.

The oldest recorded Red-footed booby was at least 22 years, eleven months old.

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The stamps will be released in sheets of ten stamps and a sheetlet of sixteen (four sets in staggered format).  For details, visit Pobjoy Mint.

Stamp details

Issue date: 22 February 2016

Designer: Andrew Robinson

Printing: Cartor Security Printing

Process: Stochastic lithography

Stamp size: 28mm x 42mm

Perforation: 13 ½ x 13 ¼ per 2cms