As the name indicates, Tropicbirds are the tropical seabirds which come under family Phaethontidae. The unique characteristic of tropicbird is that, they have extended tail feathers. The genus Phaethon holds three species of tropicbirds:
- Red-billed Tropicbird, (Phaethon aethereus)
- Red-tailed Tropicbird, (Phaethon rubricauda)
- White-tailed Tropicbird, (Phaethon lepturus)
Tropicbirds have large quantity of white plumage. However they have weak legs and webbed feet. Their legs are placed very back on their body, which makes them impossible to walk. The only way they can move forward on land is by pushing ahead themselves with their feet.
The size of tropicbirds ranges in length from 76cm to 102cm. However their wingspan varies from 94cm to 112cm. The black marking on their face, back and wings depends on the species. Tropicbirds have large head and, short and thick neck. They have large and powerful bills.
Tropicbirds makes loud, shrill, piercing, but grating whistle call. They often make such calls when they are in a display flight at the colony. Tropicbirds feed on flying fish and occasionally squid as well. They hunt their prey by hovering and then make a plunge-dive into the surface-layer of the waters. Like Frigatebirds they avoid multi-species feeding flocks.
During the breeding season, tropicbirds display a courtship display to attract the female bird. They form a group of 2-20 birds and fly around one another in large vertical circle, swinging the tail streamers from side to side for several minutes. If any female bird likes the display, it makes the mate with that particular male bird. Sometimes argues happens between the male birds to protect their mates.
Tropicbirds nest on crevices on the open ground or in holes. During the breeding season, the female bird lays a single egg in the nest. The egg is spotted brown. Both the parents incubate the egg for 40-46 days. Mostly the female incubates it and male brings food for the female. The chick has a grey down. The parent birds keep on feeding the chick for 12-13 weeks until it fledges. They feed the young twice every three days.
The chicks of tropicbirds grow slowly as compared to other nearshore birds. They also acquire fat as young. The chicks are not able to fly during the early days. They spend several days floating on the sea to lose weight.