WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD

WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD (Phaethon lepturus) – Koa’e Kea – Indigenous
DESCRIPTION: The White-tailed tropicbird is a mostly white pelagic seabird. It has a black bar across the eye. In flight, the top parts show a V-shaped black bar across the wings. The primaries also are black. The bill is orange, and the short legs and webbed feet are black. Adults are similar. Juveniles lack the long tail feathers. It is about 30 inches (76 cm) long, and half that length is for the central tail feathers, called ‘streamers’.
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Phaethon-lepturus
NAME: The English name of this species refers to the range of this bird and to its tail color. The Latin genus name ‘Phaethon’ is from Greek and means ‘sun’, and the species name ‘lepturus’ means ‘delicate tail’. This tropicbird species is sometimes called ‘crater bird’ because of its nesting habits.
HABITAT: Islands in the tropical oceans.
DIET: White-tailed tropicbirds dive from the air to catch squid and fish near the surface. They also hunt for flying fish. They swallow their prey before taking off.
NESTING: The White-tailed tropicbird usually nests on and along steep cliffs on isolated islands. One creamy egg with brown spots is laid. Both parents feed the chick.
DISTRIBUTION: The range of this tropicbird is in the tropical oceans around the world. In the USA, it is found at the Dry Tortugas in Florida and on Hawaii. On the islands of the latter state, the bird has been observed in the Waimea Canyon on Kauai, and in the Kilauea Caldera (when not erupting) on the Big Island. This is in addition to its usual habitat along the sea cliffs.
CONSERVATION: Although the white-tailed tropicbird is listed as ‘least concern’ not much is known on its population trends. They can get caught in fishing gear.
NOTES: As with many other pelagic seabirds that fly effortlessly, red-tailed tropicbirds walk with difficulty on the ground due to their short legs and their location toward the back of the body. However they can fly for longs periods of time.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Red-tailed Tropicbird
REFERENCES: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White-tailed_tropicbird
https://www.fws.gov/refuge/hawaiian_islands/wildlife_and_habitat/white-tailed_tropicbird.html
https://abcbirds.org/bird/white-tailed-tropicbird/
Fact sheet from Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources: White-tailed-Tropicbird – Hawaii DLNR – Oct. 2005
https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/white-tailed-tropicbird
https://www.arkive.org/white-tailed-tropicbird/phaethon-lepturus/

White-tailed Tropicbird in flight, top view - Midway Atoll, USA - Dec. 2012 - photo by Bettina Arrigoni
White-tailed Tropicbird in flight, top view – Midway Atoll, USA – Dec. 2012 – photo by Bettina Arrigoni
White-tailed Tropicbird in flight, view from under - Kerala - Feb. 2012 - photo by Yooshau
White-tailed Tropicbird in flight, view from under – Kerala – Feb. 2012 – photo by Yooshau
White-tailed Tropicbird on nest with young - Ile Aride, Seychelles - Feb. 2015 - photo by Remi Jouan
White-tailed Tropicbird on nest with young – Ile Aride, Seychelles – Feb. 2015 – photo by Remi Jouan

BACK TO THE TOP