Red-tailed Tropicbird

A Red-tailed Tropicbird flying over the ocean in search of food. [Photographed by Thomas Rowland]

[Photographer: Thomas Rowland]

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Scientific Name: Phaethon rubricauda 

Size: 95 to 104 cm

What does it look like?

The Red-tailed Tropicbird is one of three similarly looking large white seabirds that occur within Australia and its territories. It can be generally identified by its long red tail streamers, although these are not present, or are greatly reduced, in young birds. The adult can be distinguished from the White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus by its bright white plumage, red tail streamers and red bill, while the vagrant Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus has black streaks on the back, large black panels in the primary flight feathers, and white tail streamers. Younger birds have black and white plumage, a dark grey to black (juveniles) or orange-yellow (immature) bill. 

Where is it found?

The species is found throughout tropical and subtropical areas of the Indian and West Pacific Oceans, with the largest breeding colony located on Lord Howe Island.

What are its habitats & habits?

Red-tailed Tropicbird pairs nest on coastal cliffs, and may renew pair bonds each season. A single egg is laid in a shallow sandy scrape or rocky depression and both both sexes share incubation duties. Food, mostly small squid and surface-dwelling fish (including flying fish), is caught by diving into the ocean from a height of up to 50 m.

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Front cover of Australia's Birdwatching Megaspots book showing a picture of an Eastern Spinebill

This species features in my book Australia’s Birdwatching Megaspots

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