Family Tropicbirds (Phaethontidae)

Least Concern

White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus)


French: Phaéton à bec jaune German: Weißchwanz-Tropikvogel Spanish: Rabijunco menor
Other common names: Yellow-billed Tropicbird

Phaëton [sic] lepturus


, 1802,



Current opinion suggests most races may be better considered merely colour morphs. However, catesbyi is notably distinctive, based on orange vs yellow bill, reduced white tip to wing, and vocal differences in adults, as well as less heavily marked juveniles#R; further research needed. Six subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. l. catesbyi J. F. Brandt, 1838 – Caribbean.
  • P. l. ascensionis (Mathews, 1915) – C & S Atlantic.
  • P. l. europae Le Corre & Jouventin, 1999 – Europa I (S Mozambique Channel).
  • P. l. lepturus Daudin, 1802 – Indian Ocean.
  • P. l. fulvus J. F. Brandt, 1838 – Christmas I (Indian Ocean).
  • P. l. dorotheae Mathews, 1913 – W & C Pacific.
  • Descriptive notes

    70–82 cm (including 33–45 cm tail-streamers); 220–410 g; wingspan 90–95 cm. Smallest tropicbird, with black on outer primaries contrasting with... read more


    Usually silent, except near colonies, and not very vocal even there. During courtship, groups of 4–... read more


    Tropical and subtropical seas; mainly pelagic, but in places frequents coast more than other... read more

    Food and feeding

    Small fish, especially flying fish (Exocoetus volitans, Parexocoetus brachy­pterus, Cheilopogon furcatus);... read more


    Seasonal in places, elsewhere can be more or less continuous. Loosely colonial. Nest in rocky crevice, or sheltered scrape on ground, but... read more


    Resident and dispersive, with both adults and juveniles wandering extensively, sometimes up to 1000... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Sizeable population in Caribbean, with 10,000+ pairs. Population of Christmas I (Indian Ocean) must have declined slightly... read more

    Recommended citation

    Orta, J., Christie, D.A., Jutglar, F., Garcia, E.F.J. & Boesman, P. (2019). White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus). 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 22 April 2019).