Thai National Parks

Birds of Thailand

Species of Thailand

White-tailed tropicbird

Thai: นกร่อนทะเลหางขาว, nok ron tha-le hang khao

Binomial name: Phaethon lepturus, François Marie Daudin, 1802

The white-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus) is a tropicbird, smallest of three closely related seabirds of the tropical oceans and smallest member of the order Phaethontiformes. It occurs in the tropical Atlantic, western Pacific and Indian Oceans. It also breeds on some Caribbean islands, and a few pairs have started nesting recently on Little Tobago, joining the red-billed tropicbird colony. In addition to the tropical Atlantic, it nests as far north as Bermuda, where it is locally called a "longtail".

The white-tailed tropicbird breeds on tropical islands laying a single egg directly onto the ground or a cliff ledge. It disperses widely across the oceans when not breeding, and sometimes wanders far. It feeds on fish and squid, caught by surface plunging, but this species is a poor swimmer. The call is a high screamed keee-keee-krrrt-krrt-krrt. Sailors nicknamed the tropicbird the "bosun bird" due to the call's resemblance to a bosun's whistle.

The adult white-tailed tropicbird is a slender, mainly white bird, 71–80 cm long including the very long central tail feathers, which double its total length. The wingspan is 89–96 cm, and there is a black band on the inner wing There is black through the eye and the bill is orange-yellow to orange red. The bill colour, pure white back and black wing bar distinguish this species from red-billed.

Sexes are similar, although males average longer tailed, but juveniles lack the tail streamers, have a green-yellow bill, and a finely barred back.

The white-tailed tropicbird does not have a yearly breeding cycle; instead breeding frequency depends on the climate and availability of suitable breeding sites. The bird can reproduce 10 months after the last successful breeding, or 5 months after an unsuccessful one.

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Scientific classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Pelecaniformes
Family
Phaethontidae
Genus
Phaethon
Species
Phaethon lepturus

Common names

  • Thai: นกร่อนทะเลหางขาว, nok ron tha-le hang khao

Subspecies

  • Phaethon lepturus ascensionis, Gregory Macalister Mathews, 1915

    Range: Ascension Island

  • Phaethon lepturus catesbyi, Johann Friedrich von Brandt, 1839

    Range: Bermuda and Caribbean

  • Phaethon lepturus dorotheae, Gregory Macalister Mathews, 1913

    Range: Tropical Pacific

  • Phaethon lepturus europae, Matthieu Le Corre & Pierre Jouventin, 1999

    Range: Europa Island, s. Mozambique Channel

  • Phaethon lepturus fulvus, Johann Friedrich von Brandt, 1838

    Common name: Golden bosun

    Range: Christmas Island. This form has a golden wash to the white plumage

  • Phaethon lepturus lepturus, François Marie Daudin, 1802

    Range: Indian Ocean

Conservation status

Least Concern (IUCN3.1)

Least Concern (IUCN3.1)