• BirdForum is the net's largest birding community, dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE!

    You are most welcome to register for an account, which allows you to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

White-tailed Tropicbird - BirdForum Opus

Nominate subspecies
Photo © by cango
Aride, Seychelles, October 2017
Phaethon lepturus


Subspecies catesbyi
Photo © by Steve G
Little Tobago Island, Tobago

70-82 cm (27½-32¼ in) long (includes very long central tail feathers)

  • White back
  • Black band on inner wing upperside
  • Black on outer primaries
  • White primary coverts on upperside
  • Black line through eye tends to turn down
  • Yellow to red bill

Sexes are similar (males have a long tail)
Juvenile: lacks taill streamers

  • Greenish-yellow bill
  • Finely barred back

Similar species

Red-billed Tropicbird and Red-tailed Tropicbird. Red-billed Tropicbird has black primary coverts on upperside and black eye line tends to turn up, not down.


Subspecies fulvus
Photo © by Swissboy
Christmas Island, Australia, December 2007

The tropical Atlantic, western Pacific and Indian Oceans. They also breed on some Caribbean islands.



Photo © by Andy Wraithmell
off Florida, July 2011

There are six subspecies[1]:

  • P. l. lepturus:
  • P. l. fulvus: the tropicbirds of this subspecies have a golden-yellow wash of varying degrees, giving them the local name of Golden Bosun (photo to right)
  • P. l. europae:
  • P. l. catesbyi:
  • Breeds islands in tropical Atlantic Ocean
  • P. l. dorotheae:
  • P. l. ascensionis:


Breeds on rocky island coasts, otherwise pelagic.



The single egg is laid on a cliff edge or on the ground in a sheltered scrape. The breed in loose colonies.


Their diet consists of small fish (especially flying fish) and squid, caught by diving.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive (retrieved Oct 2017)

Recommended Citation

External Links