Red-billed tropicbird

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Red-billed tropicbird
Red-billed tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus mesonauta) with chick.jpg
P. a. mesonauta, Little Tobago
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Phaethontiformes
Family: Phaethontidae
Genus: Phaethon
Species: P. aethereus
Binomial name
Phaethon aethereus
Linnaeus, 1758

The red-billed tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus), also known as the boatswain bird is a tropicbird, one of three closely related seabirds of tropical oceans. The scientific name is derived from Ancient Greek phaethon, "sun" and Latin aetherius, "heavenly".[2]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The red-billed tropicbird occurs in the tropical Atlantic, eastern Pacific and Indian Oceans. The Indian Ocean race, P. a. indicus, was at one time considered a full species, the lesser red-billed tropicbird from Pakistan and western India. It breeds on tropical islands laying a single egg directly onto the ground or a cliff ledge. Breeding in the Western Palaearctic occurs on the Cape Verde Islands and attempted breeding on the Îles des Madeleines off Senegal. Total numbers in 2000 were probably less than 150 pairs.[3]

It disperses widely when not breeding, and sometimes wanders far, including five records from Great Britain.[4] In July 2005, one was found in eastern New Brunswick, Canada, and another sighting at Matinicus Rock, Maine.[5][6] There was confirmed sighting on Lord Howe Island near Australia in November 2010.


The adult is a slender, mainly white bird, 48 cm long, excluding the central tail feathers which double the total length, and a one-metre wingspan. The long wings have black markings on the flight feathers. There is black through the eye. The bill is red. Sexes are similar, although males average longer tails. Juveniles lack the tail streamers, are greyer-backed, and have a yellow bill. P. a. indicus has a reduced black eye stripe, and a more orange-tinted bill.Its wind are made up of very large feather coat. They feed on fish and squid, but are poor swimmers.

Depiction on banknote[edit]

The red-billed tropicbird was featured in error on the $50 Bermudian dollar and was replaced in 2012 by the white-tailed tropicbird.


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2013). "Phaethon aethereus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 34, 301. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4. 
  3. ^ "Red-billed Tropicbird: At sea between the Isles of Scilly and France". BirdGuides. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  4. ^ "Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus)". BirdGuides. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  5. ^ Corio, Chris (16 July 2005). "Tourist spots red-billed tropicbird on island". BND Maine. 
  6. ^ "Matinicus Rock". Audubon. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Snow, D.W. (1965). The breeding of the Red-billed Tropicbird in the Galapagos Islands. Condor 67(3): 210-214.
  • Birds of India by Grimmett, Inskipp and Inskipp, ISBN 0-691-04910-6
  • Seabirds: An Identification Guide by Harrison, Peter ISBN 0-7470-1410-8

External links[edit]