Family Tropicbirds (Phaethontidae)

Least Concern

Red-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda)


French: Phaéton à brins rouges German: Rotschwanz-Tropikvogel Spanish: Rabijunco colirrojo

Phaeton [sic] rubricauda


, 1783,



Birds of C Pacific sometimes placed in separate race rothschildi. Races have been suggested to form a N–S cline, and species may be better considered monotypic. Four subspecies normally recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. r. rubricauda Boddaert, 1783 – W Indian Ocean.
  • P. r. westralis Mathews, 1912 – E Indian Ocean.
  • P. r. roseotinctus (Mathews, 1926) – SW Pacific.
  • P. r. melanorhynchos J. F. Gmelin, 1789 – W, C & S Pacific.
  • Descriptive notes

    78–81 cm (including 28–38 cm tail-streamers); 600–835 g; wingspan 99–119 cm. Adult readily separated from congeners by red tail streamers and almost... read more


    Usually silent, except near breeding colonies. Adults emit a harsh disyllabic “ke-lek” and a more... read more


    Tropical and subtropical seas; the most pelagic species. Breeds on small, remote oceanic islands;... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mostly fish, especially flying fish (Exocoetus volitans, Cypselurus), up to 33 cm, and large quantities of squid (... read more


    Seasonal in places, elsewhere can be more or less continuous. Those nesting on leeward Hawaiian Is begin nesting in boreal spring, the... read more


    No regular migration known; some adults occur in vicinity of colonies year-round. Nevertheless,... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Populations generally considered stable. Most numerous in Pacific, with some 12,000 pairs in Hawaii, and probably large numbers in S... read more

    Recommended citation

    Orta, J., Christie, D.A., Jutglar, F., Garcia, E.F.J., Kirwan, G.M. & Boesman, P. (2020). Red-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda). 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 17 February 2020).