Bird spotted for first time in state in Summit County

Bird spotted for first time in state in Summit County
Jon M. Cefus

There are single records of brown boobies in Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana and now Ohio after one was spotted late in August in Summit County.


On Tuesday evening, Aug. 25, Summit County birder Henry Trimpe was kayaking at Nimisila Reservoir when he saw what looked like a large seabird. The bird was flying around the south end of the reservoir. When he was able to get a better look at the bird, Henry realized it almost had to be a brown booby. Henry and many other people have been visiting Nimisila to watch the 40,000-plus purple martins that gather there this time of year before heading south.

Because it was getting dark, Henry passed on the word to other birders, and many of them were gathered at the site the next morning. The bird had found a tall roost tree at the edge of the reservoir and was not bothered by the birders nearby. It was indeed a young brown booby.

Kent Miller was there for about four hours that morning and reported the bird would fly around, sometimes plunge-diving and catching fish. It would land on the water at times before returning to the perch tree. Kent also noticed when the booby would see several gulls gathering, it would fly over to the area, most likely looking for potential food.

The brown booby is a member of a distinctive family of seabirds that includes nine different species found on the oceans of the world, especially in tropical zones. The best-known member of the family is the northern gannet, a striking black and white seabird that breeds along the Atlantic Coast in Northeastern Canada and winters along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States.

Brown boobies are found in the tropical ocean waters. They rarely are found inland, and when they do show up in places like Ohio or Indiana, it is often when hurricanes or tropical storms are involved. In this case the brown booby showed up ahead of Hurricane Laura, but birds may sense such storms coming and leave the area ahead of time. We don’t really know.

There are single records of brown boobies in Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana and now in Ohio. Some have stayed for almost a month while the Indiana bird was only seen briefly for one day. A brown booby was seen from Oct. 8 until at least Nov. 3, 2013, at different locations along northeastern Lake Erie in Ontario and also in New York. There are lots of records along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific Coasts.

The brown booby at Nimisila Reservoir has stayed in the same place since it was discovered. I am writing on Sept. 1, and Kent Miller said the bird is still there. It’s hard to know how many birders have seen the booby, but when I was there on Aug. 29, there were around 30-35 other birders there including people from Michigan and from all corners of Ohio. I’d guess at least 300-400 people have enjoyed seeing this seabird.

I arrived around noon on Saturday, and the booby was floating on the water near the dam at the time. People were watching it through spotting scopes and with binoculars. Before long, it took off and flew around the reservoir, first heading toward the perch tree and then turning around and landing on the water again.

This is a young bird, mostly brown as the name implies. Eventually, when it molts into adult plumage, it will be brown above with a white breast and underparts. As an adult, it will have bright-yellow feet. Boobies have large, strong beaks; long wings; and a streamlined tail. These birds are made for flying and soaring and normally spend most of their time at sea, except during the nesting season.

Thanks to Jon Cefus, a birding friend who also was at Nimisila while I was there. Jon had seen the bird at the roost tree and generously offered to provide a photo for this column.

Good birding!

Bruce Glick can be emailed at

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