Red-billed tropicbird

Professional marine forecasters to optimize breeding success and prey availability

Dominic Sherony

With its streamlined body, predominantly white plumage, and long, ribbon-like tail feathers, it is a distinctive sight soaring above tropical and subtropical oceans. As one of the three species in the genus Phaethon, they are most recognizable by their bright red bill, which sharply contrasts with their soft white feathers.

Inhabiting regions where food availability can be unpredictable due to the ever-changing marine environment, these birds have developed remarkable adaptations. They have the agility and speed to catch flying fish and squid that skim the ocean’s surface, often engaging in dramatic aerial pursuits that showcase their flying prowess.

Red-billed Tropicbirds are selective about their breeding sites, often choosing inaccessible cliffs and islets that provide protection from predators and human disturbance. They breed in loose colonies where each pair lays a single white egg in a scrape or crevice, sometimes lined with feathers. The location of their nests, typically on high cliffs, allows for easy takeoff and landing — essential for a bird so adept in the air.

The incubation period for a Red-billed Tropicbird is around 42 days, with both parents sharing the duty of warming the egg. The chick, once hatched, is brooded and fed by its parents and will fledge between 12 to 15 weeks of age. During this period, the chick grows rapidly, developing the skills and feathers necessary for flight.

These seabirds are sensitive to changes in sea surface temperatures, which can affect the abundance of their prey. Warmer waters often lead to a decrease in the availability of flying fish and squid, compelling the tropicbirds to spend more time foraging and less time at the nest tending to their offspring. In some cases, this can lead to a delay in breeding or the egg-laying process, as the birds must ensure that the conditions are favorable enough to raise a chick successfully.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Angola
2019
Vagrant
Anguilla
2019
Antigua & Barbuda
2019
Bahamas
2019
Bahrain
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Barbados
2019
Belize
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Benin
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Bermuda
2019
Vagrant
Bonaire Sint Eustatius And Saba
2019
Brazil
2019
British Virgin Is.
2019
Cameroon
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Cape Verde
2019
Breeding
Cayman Islands
2019
Chile
2019
China
2019
Breeding
Colombia
2019
Congo-Brazzaville
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Costa Rica
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Cuba
2019
Curaçao
2019
Côte D’ivoire
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Djibouti
2019
Dominica
2019
Dominican Republic
2019
Ecuador
2019
Breeding: Galápagos
Egypt
2019
El Salvador
2019
Equatorial Guinea
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Eritrea
2019
French Guiana
2019
French Polynesia
2019
Vagrant
Gabon
2019
Vagrant
Gambia
2019
Vagrant
Ghana
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Grenada
2019
Breeding
Guadeloupe
2019
Guatemala
2019
Origin Uncertain
Guinea-Bissau
2019
Guinea
2019
Guyana
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Haiti
2019
Honduras
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
India
2019
Vagrant
Iran
2019
Iraq
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Israel
2019
Vagrant
Jamaica
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Jordan
2019
Vagrant
Kuwait
2019
Non-Breeding
Liberia
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Madagascar
2019
Vagrant
Malaysia
2019
Vagrant
Maldives
2019
Martinique
2019
Mauritania
2019
Vagrant
Mexico
2019
Montserrat
2019
Myanmar
2019
Vagrant
Netherlands
2019
Vagrant
Nicaragua
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Nigeria
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Oman
2019
Pakistan
2019
Panama
2019
Peru
2019
Portugal
2019
Breeding
Puerto Rico
2019
Qatar
2019
Saint Helena
2019
Breeding
Saint Lucia
2019
Saint Martin
2019
French Part
Saint Vincent
2019
Saudi Arabia
2019
Senegal
2019
Breeding
Seychelles
2019
Vagrant
Sint Maarten
2019
Dutch Part
Somalia
2019
South Africa
2019
Vagrant
Spain
2019
Vagrant: Canary Is.
Sri Lanka
2019
Vagrant
St. Kitts & Nevis
2019
Sudan
2019
Non-Breeding
Suriname
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
São Tomé & Príncipe
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Togo
2019
Seasonality Uncertain
Trinidad & Tobago
2019
Turks & Caicos
2019
UAE
2019
Breeding
US Virgin Islands
2019
United Kingdom
2019
Vagrant
United States
2019
Vagrant: Hawaiian Is.
Venezuela
2019
Vietnam
2019
Vagrant
Yemen
2019

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd / Colony

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No