Family Tropicbirds (Phaethontidae)

Least Concern

Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus)


French: Phaéton à bec rouge German: Rotschnabel-Tropikvogel Spanish: Rabijunco etéreo

Phaëthon aethereus


, 1758,

Ascension Island


Race indicus sometimes considered a separate species; differences exist, but do not appear sufficient to justify species rank. In past, Galapagos birds separated as race limatus but now almost universally included in mesonauta. Three subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. a. mesonauta J. L. Peters, 1930 – E Pacific, Caribbean and E Atlantic.
  • P. a. aethereus Linnaeus, 1758 – S Atlantic.
  • P. a. indicus A. O. Hume, 1876 – Persian Gulf, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea.
  • Descriptive notes

    90–107 cm (including 46–56 cm tail streamers); 700 g; wingspan 99–106 cm. The only tropicbird with black-barred upperparts and base of upperwing in... read more


    Usually silent, except near breeding colonies, where groups of 2–20 adults may circle over sea... read more


    Tropical and subtropical seas; mainly pelagic. Breeds on small, remote oceanic islands; prefers... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mostly small fish (10–20 cm), especially flying fish (Exocoetus volitans, Oxyporhamphus micropterus), some larger,... read more


    Seasonal in places, elsewhere can be more or less continuous. Loosely colonial. Nest is in rocky crevice, or scrape on ground; little or no... read more


    No regular migrations; some adults observed in vicinity of colonies year-round. Extensive dispersal... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Probably least numerous of tropicbirds. Healthiest populations probably in the Americas, with 1600+ pairs in Caribbean, 500–... read more

    Recommended citation

    Orta, J., Jutglar, F., Garcia, E.F.J. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 10 December 2019).