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Red-billed tropicbird

Phaethon aethereus

Photo by Jean-Christophe Delattre (Nunda Foto)

Common name:
red-billed tropicbird (en); rabo-de-palha-de-bico-vermelho (pt); phaéton à bec rouge (fr); rabijunco etéreo (es); rotschnabel-tropikvogel (de)

Order Pelecaniformes
Family Phaethontidae

This species is found in the tropical Atlantic Ocean, from Angola to Brazil and north to the Canary Islands and the Caribbean, the north-western Indian Ocean between Pakistan, the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia and the Seychelles, and in the eastern Pacific Ocean from California to Ecuador. Breeding colonies are found on the Galapagos Islands, off the Pacific coast of Mexico, in the Carribean, on the Canary Islands, on islands in the southern Atlantic, and on the coasts of Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

These birds are 90-105 cm long, including the tail streamers, and have a wingspan of 100-115 cm. They weigh around 700 g.

The red-billed tropicbird breeds in cliffs and open rocky areas with sparse vegetation, most often in remote oceanic islands. They are highly pelagic, spending most of their time foraging in open oceanic waters, usually over areas of upwelling and other marine features that support dependable sources of prey.

They eat fishes, including Clupeidae, Scombridae, Carangidae, Exocoetidae, Belonidae and Haemulidae, and squids Loligo sp., which they catch by plunge-diving, or sometimes taking flying fish from the air.

Red-billed tropicbirds are monogamous and breeds in January-May. The nest is a mere scrape on the ground, usually in a crevice in a cliff or beneath rocks. There the female lays a single egg which is incubated for 42-44 days. The chick is fed by both parents and fledges 80-90 days after hatching.

IUCN status – LC (Least Concern)
This species has a restricted breeding range and a global population estimated at 5.000-20.000 individuals. Although the population is suspected to be in decline owing to predation by invasive species, human disturbance on nesting sites and persecution by fishermen, the red-billed tropicbird is not considered threatened at present.

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