The beautiful Red billed Tropicbird amazes Galapagos visitors with it’s striking appearance. Their long elegant tail streamers, bright red beak and black eye mask combine beautifully, making the red-billed tropicbird a very photogenic character. Although not always easy to spot at the Galapagos islands, any kean birdwatcher should keep their eyes open. A sighting of the Galapagos red billed tropicbird in flight is a mesmerizing and rewarding experience!
Read on for everything you ever wanted to know about the Galapagos Red Billed Tropicbird. Where and when to see them? How to recognise them? Plus lots of interesting red-billed tropic bird facts, photos and information.
Conservation Status: Least Concern
Scientific Name: Phaethon Aethereus Mesonauta
There are estimated to be a few thousand Red Billed Tropicbird pairs at Galapagos, spread across 30+ different colonies. They can be spotted most easily on Galapagos cruising itineraries.
The Galapagos red-billed tropic bird is active all year round, and breeds throughout the year.
Fortunately, postive identification of a Galapagos red-billed tropicbird is not difficult. They resemble a tern in appearance, with white bodies, black markings on their wings, a distinctive black mask and bright red beak. But the easiest way to distinguish them from other bird species is by their elegant, long tail streamers which usually measure twice their body length.
The Red billed Tropicbird is the largest of the world’s Tropicbird species, growing up to 90 - 105 cm long (tailstreamer included), with wingspan a little over 1 meter. Male red billed tropicbirds usually have longer tail streamers than females, while juveniles have yet to grow their impressive tail.
Red Billed Tropicbird range (Phaethon Aethereus Mesonauta) extends along the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean and in the Caribbean. At the Galapagos Islands they are sturdy seabirds, spending much of their time out to sea, and only coming to land for breeding. Red-billed tropicbirds nest in colonies, preferring rock walls or cliff ledges which offer good shelter.
The Red-billed Tropicbird courtship ritual is quite beautiful. Couples perform spectacular aerial acrobatics together for up to one month at a time – this can be a particularly spectacular moment for visitors to spot them. At Galapagos they can breed all year-round, laying just one single egg per clutch. The incubation period lasts for 6 weeks, and after fledging the baby tropicbird will typcially fly the nest to fend for itself.
The Red billed Tropicbird diet consists mostly of squid and small fish which they catch by plunge-diving. This bird often likes to forage for food alone, and has intelligently learnt to follow other predators such as dolphins or tuna, catching small fish that are driven to the surface by them.
• As graceful as they are in flight, the Red-billed Tropicbird is rather clumsy on land, unable to walk and having to push itself along on it’s belly. For this reason they like to nest on steep cliffs, where walking is largely unnecessary and take-off easy.
• They hate to get their impressive tail streamers wet. It is quite common to see them sitting on the water, with their tail held up in order to keep it dry.
• The Red-billed Tropicbird is nicknamed the Boatswain Bird, due to it’s shrill call that sounds similar to a Boatswain’s whistle (kree-kree-kree).
If you enjoyed this post, then check out more information about Galapagos Bird species.
In conclusion, few Galapagos birds can claim to be as elegant and graceful as the red billed tropicbird. They are not a very common sighting at Galapagos, but if you do manage to catch one in photo it can be one of your very best vacation snaps.