White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus)

White-tailed Tropicbird

[order] PHAETHONTIFORMES | [family] Phaethontidae | [latin] Phaethon lepturus | [UK] White-tailed Tropicbird | [FR] Phaeton a bec jaune | [DE] Weissschwanz-Tropikvogel | [ES] Rabijunco Menor | [NL] Witstaartkeerkringvogel


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Mycteria lepturus
Phaethon lepturus
Phaethon lepturus
Phaethon lepturus TrO widespread
Phaethon lepturus ascensionis tropical s Atlantic
Phaethon lepturus catesbyi West Indies, Bermuda
Phaethon lepturus dorotheae tropical w Pacific
Phaethon lepturus europae Europa I. (Mozambique Channel)
Phaethon lepturus fulvus Christmas I. (Indian Ocean)
Phaethon lepturus lepturus Indian Ocean

Physical charateristics

Tropicbirds fly pigeonlike on strong quick wings over the sea. Note the two extremely long central tail feathers. Bill yellow to orange-red. May be known from others by the diagonal black bar
across each wing. Young lack streamers, are barred with black above; bill yellow.

Listen to the sound of White-tailed Tropicbird

[audio:http://www.aviflevoland.nl/sounddb/W/White-tailed Tropicbird.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 90 cm wingspan max.: 95 cm
size min.: 70 cm size max.: 82 cm
incubation min.: 40 days incubation max.: 43 days
fledging min.: 70 days fledging max.: 85 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 1  


Tropical Ocean : widespread. This species can be found across much of the tropical oceans, including the southern Indian Ocean, western and central Pacific, and south Atlantic Ocean. Breeding colonies are also found in the Carribean


Tropical ocean, islands. Found close to shore around nesting islands but otherwise spends most of its time far out at sea, over warm waters. Nests on islands, often those with rocky cliffs.


May nest as isolated pairs or in colonies, depending on spacing of available nest sites. Nesting season is spring and summer in Bermuda, may nest year-round at some tropical islands. Courtship displays include two birds flying gracefully in unison, one ab
ove the other, with higher bird bending tail down to touch tail of lower bird.
Nest: Site is in crevice or hole in rock, on ledge, on ground under dense vegetation; in Old World tropics, may nest in hollow tree or log. Same site may be reused for several years. No nest built, egg laid on bare ground.
Eggs: 1. Whitish to pale buff, with brownish and purplish spots. Incubation by both sexes, 40-42 days, perhaps sometimes shorter.
Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Age at first flight usually 70-85 days.

Feeding habits

Mostly fish. Feeds on a wide variety of small fish, but seems to favor flyingfish, which are common in tropical waters. Also eats small squid, snails, crabs.
Behavior: Forages by plunging into water from flight, submerging briefly; sometimes by
swooping down to surface without striking water, perhaps taking flyingfish in the air. May feed most actively in early morning and late afternoon.


This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
White-tailed Tropicbird status Least Concern


Tropical oceans worldwide. Occasionally seen in Gulf Stream off southern Atlantic coast, Florida Keys. Accidental to casual elsewhere. Migration:
Visits North American waters in spring and summer. Only a summer resident in Bermuda. Present year-round in some parts of Caribbean. Sometimes driven far inland in North America by hurricanes.

Distribution map

White-tailed Tropicbird distribution range map

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