The bird family Sulidae comprises the gannets and boobies. Collectively called sulids, they are medium-large coastal seabirds that plunge-dive for fish and similar prey. The 10 species in this family are often considered congeneric in older sources, placing all in the genus Sula. However, Sula (true boobies) and Morus (gannets) can be readily distinguished by morphological, behavioral, and DNA sequence characters. Abbott's booby (Papasula) is given its own genus, as it stands apart from both in these respects. It appears to be a distinct and ancient lineage, maybe closer to the gannets than to the true boobies.
The sulids are distributed mainly in tropical and subtropical waters, but they, particularly gannets, are found in temperate regions, too. These birds are not truly pelagic seabirds like the related Procellariiformes, and usually stay rather close to the coasts, but the abundant colonies of sulids that exist on many Pacific islands suggest that they are not infrequently blown away from their home range by storms, and can wander for long distances in search of a safe place to land if need be.
All species feed entirely at sea, mostly on mid-sized fish and similarly sized marine invertebrates (e.g. cephalopods). Many species feed communally, and some species follow fishing boats to scavenge discarded bycatch and chum. The typical hunting behavior is a dive from midair, taking the bird a 1–2 m under water. If prey manages to escape the diving birds at first, they may give chase using their legs and wings for underwater swimming.
As noted above, the behavioral traits of gannets and boobies differ considerably, but the Sulidae as a whole are characterized by several behavioral synapomorphies: Before taking off, they point their bills upwards (gannets) or forward (boobies). After landing again, they point downwards with their bills. In response to a threat, they do not attack, but shake their heads and point their bills towards the intruders.