Photo: Valerie Hukalo/Flickr Creative Commons

White-tailed Tropicbird

Phaethon lepturus

In the United States, this beautiful bird is seen mostly in Hawaii and around the Dry Tortugas, Florida. This is the national bird of Bermuda, where the "Longtail" is familiar to all and is given complete protection.
Conservation status Nesting colonies in some parts of world have declined owing to human disturbance, but still widespread and common in many areas.
Family Tropicbirds
Habitat 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.
In the United States, this beautiful bird is seen mostly in Hawaii and around the Dry Tortugas, Florida. This is the national bird of Bermuda, where the "Longtail" is familiar to all and is given complete protection.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages by plunging into water from flight, submerging briefly; sometimes by swooping down to surface without striking water, perhaps taking flying fish in the air. May feed most actively in early morning and late afternoon.


Eggs

One. Whitish to pale buff, with brownish and purplish spots. Incubation is by both sexes, 40-42 days, perhaps sometimes shorter. Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Age at first flight usually 70-85 days.


Young

Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Age at first flight usually 70-85 days.

Diet

Mostly fish. Feeds on a wide variety of small fish, but seems to favor flying fish, which are common in tropical waters. Also eats small squid, snails, crabs.


Nesting

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 above 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 re-used for several years. No nest built, egg laid on bare ground.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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.

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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.

Songs and Calls
A piping keck-keck-keck and other tern-like calls, given in flight.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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