Red-Billed Tropicbird

Tropicbirds, the smallest of the pelecaniformes belong to the family Phaethontidae which contains one genus, Phaethon, and three species. They derive their other common name, the "bosun bird", from their characteristic "t'weee-eee" call which is reminiscent of a boatswain's whistle. The Galapagos species, the red-billed tropicbird (P. aethereus) is also found in the tropical latitudes of the eastern Pacific, the Caribbean, and in the Indian Ocean. In Galapagos it is not uncommon to see them soaring along the cliffs where they make their nests, on islands such as South Plaza, Espanola, Genovesa, and N. Seymour. Tropicbirds are striking birds, with a vivid, white body, black wing edges and eye stripe, red bill, and two long, streaming tail feathers. Like some of the other pelecaniformes, tropicbirds are plunge-divers, feeding on squid and fish, well out at sea. After a dive, they bob back up to the surface, sitting momentarily, with their two tail feathers cocked in an upright position.


Tropicbirds court each other with an aerial display and callings. They make their nests on ledges and in holes and crevices in the cliffs, and lay a single egg on the ground. Both parents share in incubation and in feeding of the chick. The juvenile tropicbird looks much like its parents except that its bill is yellow.

Next: Flightless Cormorant

Return to Sea Birds

    for more info, contact Dr. Robert Rothman: