Long journey home for red-footed booby

Norman, the red-footed booby, recovers at the Cayman Turtle Centre on Monday. - PHOTO: TANEOS RAMSAY

A red-footed booby named Norman arrived in the Cayman Islands on a British Airways flight from Heathrow last week. The bird fell from the sky, exhausted and dehydrated, on a beach in St. Leonards, in the southeast of England, in September.

The U.K.’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals nursed the young booby back to health, and his rescuer named him Norman.

The bird was delivered to the Cayman Turtle Centre where it is now waiting to be released into the red-footed booby colony on Little Cayman.

Turtle Centre curator Geddes Hislop said Norman appears to be healthy and is eating. But, he said Monday morning, “It was a long flight; he’s still jet lagged.”

Once Norman gets over his jet lag and spends a month in the aviary, based on Department of Agriculture quarantine rules, Mr. Hislop said, the booby will be released on Little Cayman, where conservationists and ornithologists suspect he came from.

Norman eats before boarding a British Airways flight last week, bound for the Cayman Islands.

Mr. Hislop and the Department of Environment’s Jane Haakonsson suspect Norman was blown off course by a tropical storm or hurricane.

Norman “most likely came from the colony on Little Cayman,” Ms. Haakonsson said. He showed up in England on Sept. 4, bedraggled and starving after the 4,800-mile journey.

Norman could have gotten caught in the Westerlies, the prevailing trade winds that blow west from the United States to Europe, Turtle Centre Director Tim Adam guessed.

Mr. Hislop said birds from Europe and Africa can sometimes get blown off course and end up following the tropical winds to the Caribbean, but he said he has never heard of a Caribbean bird winding up in England.

The red-footed booby lives throughout the tropics, with large mating colonies on Little Cayman and in the Galapagos Islands.

It was clearly a rough trip to England. As well as being malnourished and dehydrated, Norman also had a possible respiratory infection. But he got to ride in style back to Cayman, catching the British Airways flight from Heathrow last Thursday.

BA Capt. Shaun Griffiths, quoted by the RSPCA, said, “Despite having flown a number of VIPs before, Norman is by far the most unusual! The beaches of the Cayman Islands are some of the most beautiful in the world and we are thrilled he can start the new year in the sunshine.”

RSPCA veterinarian Barbara Watson accompanied Norman on the journey across the Atlantic. She said in a press statement, “I never imagined in my career I would be asked to treat a booby bird, as they have never been seen over here before.

“It is so wonderful to be able to take Norman back to the wild where he belongs. It will be fantastic to see him in amongst other birds just like him, which is how it should be.”

She added, “It is incredible to think how he got to the south coast of England – I don’t think we will ever really know how – but it is amazing, and we are really grateful to everyone that has had a hand in helping him to get him back home safely.”

BBC One’s “The One Show” plans to feature Norman’s journey next month.


Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now