White-tailed Tropicbirds (Phaethon lepturus)

The White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus, is a tropicbird, smallest of three closely related seabirds of the tropical oceans and smallest member of the order Phaethontiformes.

White-tailed Tropicbird
White-tailed Tropicbird

White-tailed Tropicbird

Distribution / Range

It occurs in the tropical Atlantic, western Pacific and Indian Oceans. It also breeds on some Caribbean islands, and a few pairs have started nesting recently on Little Tobago, joining the Red-billed Tropicbird colony.

In addition to the tropical Atlantic, it nests as far north as Bermuda, where it is locally called a “Longtail”.

The White-tailed Tropicbird breeds on tropical islands laying a single egg directly onto the ground or a cliff ledge. It disperses widely across the oceans when not breeding, and sometimes wanders far.

Diet / Feeding

It feeds on fish and squid, caught by surface plunging, but this species is a poor swimmer.

White-tailed Tropicbirds

Call / Vocalizations

The call is a high screamed keee-keee-krrrt-krrt-krrt.


The adult White-tailed Tropicbird is a slender, mainly white bird, 71-80 cm long including the very long central tail feathers, which double its total length. The wingspan is 89-96 cm, and there is a black band on the inner wing.

There is black through the eye and the bill is orange-yellow to orange red. The bill color, pure white back and black wing bar distinguish this species from Red-billed.

Males and females look alike, although males average longer tailed, but juveniles lack the tail streamers, have a green-yellow bill, and a finely barred back.

There are six subspecies

    • P. l. lepturus – Indian Ocean.
    • P. l. fulvus (Golden Bosun) – Christmas Island. This form has a golden wash to the white plumage.
    • P. l. dorotheae – tropical Pacific.
    • P. l. catesbyi – Bermuda and Caribbean.
    • P. l. ascensionis – Ascension Island
    • P. l. europae – Europe Island, s. Mozambique Channel.


  • BirdLife International (2004). . 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 12 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  • Harrison, Peter (1996). Seabirds of the World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01551-1.
  • ffrench, Richard (1991). A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago (2nd edition ed.). Comstock Publishing. ISBN 0-8014-9792-2.
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