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The red-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda) is a seabird that nests across the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It nests in colonies on oceanic islands. The species is also known by its Maori name, amokura.

Red-tailed tropicbird
Red-tailed Tropicbird3.jpg
Red-tailed tropicbird
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Phaethontiformes
Family: Phaethontidae
Genus: Phaethon
Species: P. rubricauda
Binomial name
Phaethon rubricauda
Boddaert, 1783



The red-tailed tropicbird was described by Dutch naturalist Pieter Boddaert in 1783 and still bears its original binomial name.[2] The genus name is derived from Ancient Greek phaethon, "sun" while the species epithet comes from the Latin words ruber "red" and cauda "tail".

Its closest relative is the white-tailed tropicbird, with the split between their ancestors taking place about four million years ago.[3]

Four subspecies are recognized:

  • P. r. rubricauda Boddaert, 1783 from the western Indian Ocean
  • P. r. westralis Mathews, 1912 from the eastern Indian Ocean. Mathews described it as separate on account of its larger wings.[4]
  • P. r. roseotinctus (Mathews, 1926) from the southwestern Pacific Ocean
  • P. r. melanorhynchos Gmelin, JF, 1789 from the western, central and southern Pacific Ocean


The red-tailed tropicbird looks like a stout tern, and hence closely resembles the other two tropicbird species. It has generally white plumage, often with a pink tinge, a black crescent around the eye and two thin red tail feathers. It has a bright red bill and black feet.

Distribution and habitatEdit

The red-tailed tropicbird nests on oceanic islands in large colonies from the Hawaiian Islands, where they are more common on the northwestern islands,[5] to Easter Island and across to Mauritius and the Reunion Island. In Madagascar they nest on the tiny island of Nosy Ve. In Australia, they nest on Queensland's coral islands (including Lady Elliot Island) and islands off Western Australia. They disperse widely after breeding, birds ringed in Hawaii have been recovered as far away as Japan and the Philippines. They range from the Red Sea to New Zealand and Chile.

Strong winds can blow them inland on occasions, which explains some sighting records away from the coast and their preferred habitats.


When breeding, they mainly choose coral atolls with low shrubs, nesting underneath them (or occasionally in limestone cavities). They feed offshore away from land, singly rather than in flocks. They are plunge-divers that feed on fish, mostly flying fish, and squid.

Vagrant red-billed tropicbirds have been implicated in egg loss of nests in Hawaii.[5]


The large range and apparently stable population indicate that the red-tailed tropicbird is classified as a least-concern species according to the IUCN.[1] It is listed as vulnerable in New South Wales.[6]



  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2013). "Phaethon rubricauda". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Boddaert, Pieter (1783). Table des Planches Enluminéez d'Histoire Naturelle, de M. d'Aubenton. Avec les denominations de M.M. de Buffon, Brisson, Edwards, Linnaeus et Latham, precédé d'une Notice des Principaux Ouvrages Zoologiques enluminées. Utrecht: Boddaert. p. 57. 
  3. ^ Kennedy, Martyn; Spencer, Hamish G (2004). "Phylogenies of the frigatebirds (Fregatidae) and tropicbirds (Phaethonidae), two divergent groups of the traditional order Pelecaniformes, inferred from mitochondrial DNA sequences". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 31 (1): 31–38. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2003.07.007. ISSN 1055-7903. 
  4. ^ Mathews, G.M. (1912). "Additions and corrections to my Reference List to the Birds of Australia". Austral Avian Records. 1: 81-103 [88]. 
  5. ^ a b Vanderwerf, Eric A.; Young, Lindsay C. (2007). "The Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda in Hawaii, with notes on interspecific behavior of tropicbirds" (PDF). Marine Ornithology. 35: 81–84. 
  6. ^ [1]

External linksEdit