Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda

  • Order: Phaethontiformes
  • Family: Phaethontidae
  • Polytypic: 4 subspecies
  • Authors needed...

Of the three species of tropicbird, the Red-tailed Tropicbird is the largest and whitest. It has entirely white wings, save for barely visible dark shaft streaks on the primaries. The other two tropicbird species have large amounts of black on their wings. The Red-tailed Tropicbird has a large and bright red bill, and a rather thin and short tail that is indeed red. It is a bulky and broad-winged tropicbird and in direct comparison with the small slim and proportionately long-tailed White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus), the Red-tailed is a brute. This tropicbird is restricted to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, only found as an extreme vagrant in the southern Atlantic. It nests on cliffs by the water’s edge, and less so inland on smaller islands; as is typical in the group it takes a larger crag or small cave to nest in. Perhaps most distinctive are the wonderful aerial displays this tropicbird engages in. The most handsome being the “backpedaling” display where the birds flutter in the air and push themselves backwards with their red tails flaring below and in front of their bodies for a period of time. Their calls can sound rather tern-like at times.

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© Chandler Robbins

  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding

Recommended Citation

Red-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: