Noddies are tropical marine tern-like seabirds that show behavioral and morphological traits more akin to those of gulls than terns. There are only three or four species worldwide, the largest and most widespread being the Brown Noddy. Aptly named, this species is indeed brown, and one of its most conspicuous social behaviors is a nodding display. Less appropriate is its scientific name; Anous means “silly” or “without understanding” in Greek, and stolidus means “slow of mind” or “dull” in Latin (Gotch 1981). Both words refer to the apparent tameness shown by noddies when approached in the breeding colony, and reflect an old human prejudice that if an animal did not stay out of harm's way, this indicates a lack of intelligence.
Brown Noddies breed in colonies on rocks, islets, and islands in warm seas around the globe to about 30° north or south of the equator, although they penetrate beyond these boundaries in the southern Atlantic Ocean. They are truly tropical, and as such breed at only one location near the continental U.S., at Bush Key, Dry Tortugas, Florida (25°N 82°W; medialink). Elsewhere in the Americas and in U.S. territories, they are common breeders on many islands in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They use a wide variety of nesting locations, including the ground, trees, shrubs, cliffs, and human-made structures. Nest structures can vary from non-existent, to scattered arrays of stones, pieces of coral and shells, to elaborate structures of twigs and other vegetation.
Like many other seabirds, this species lays a single egg, takes several years to reach sexual maturity, and experiences high annual survival. This relatively “K-selected” life history differs from that of many other similarly sized terns that feed inshore or breed in temperate or polar regions.