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Phaethon lepturus

White-tailed Tropicbird

  • Order: Phaethontiformes
  • Family: Phaethontidae

Authors: Ramos-Ordoñez, M. F., C. Rodríguez-Flores, C. Soberanes-González, and M. C. Arizmendi

Phaethon lepturus

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; 8 May 2011 © Guillermo Amermenteros

The White-tailed Tropicbird is the smallest of the three species of tropicbird. It resembles the other species in its mostly-white plumage, vaguely tern-like shape, and long, tapered tail. White-tailed is unique in having a yellow bill, large black patches on the greater wing coverts and primaries, and a largely white tail (this last feature is shared by Red-billed Tropicbird, Phaethon aethereus). White-tailed occurs throughout the tropical oceans, in the Neotropics particularly in the Caribbean and off northeastern Brazil. It breeds on small, remote islands on cliffs and occasionally in trees. While feeding is largely offshore, this species is more apt to forage near the coast than other tropicbirds. It takes small fish, squid, and crustaceans, generally by plunge-diving. Flying-fish, however, may be taken in mid-air during leaps. Outside of the breeding season, individuals may disperse some distance, sometimes as far as 1000 km.

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Recommended Citation

Ramos-Ordoñez, M. F., C. Rodríguez-Flores, C. Soberanes-González, and M. C. Arizmendi. 2010. White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online:

This map is based on the maps available from the NatureServe InfoNatura website. The data for these maps are provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy - Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International - CABS, World Wildlife Fund - US, and Environment Canada - WILDSPACE.

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