Phaethon rubricauda (Red-tailed tropicbird) 

Rooipylstert [Afrikaans]; Roodstaartkeerkringvogel [Dutch]; Phaéton à brins rouges [French]; Rotschwanz-tropikvogel [German]; Rabijunco-de-cauda-vermelha [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Ciconiiformes > Family: Phaethontidae

Phaethon rubricauda (Red-tailed tropicbird)   

Red-tailed tropicbird, Mozambique channel. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]


Distribution and habitat

Occupies much of the Indian and Pacific Oceans; it is the most common tropicbird in southern Africa, especially abundant in the Mozambique Channel but also occurring down the coast of South Africa to Cape Town.

Movements and migrations

It disperses widely from its west Indian Ocean breeding grounds, visiting southern Africa in the period from November-April.


It eats fish and squid, doing most of its foraging singly in the day, repeatedly diving into the water from 5-50 metres above sea level. It stays submerged for roughly 26 seconds, although it may make a shallow dive for just two seconds. Diving is not its only hunting technique, it may also aerially hawk flying squid and flying fish. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Fish
    • flyingfish (Exocoetidae)
    • Coryphaena (dolphin-fishes)
  • Squid
    • Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis (flying squid)


It breeds in the islands of the west Indian Ocean, such as Europa Island, the Seychelles and islands off Mauritius, nesting in rocky crevices or hollows scraped out beneath vegetation.


Not threatened, although some populations are impacted by predation by introduced mammals and birds, and it is also harvested for food by some human communities.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 



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