Ascension Island Government

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Yellow-billed Tropicbird

Phaethon lepturus

Type: Seabird | Status: Least Concern | Nativeness: Native


This seabird is also known as the White-tailed Tropicbird, though both the Red-Billed and Yellow-billed species have pale tails. On Ascension Island, they are commonly referred to as Yellow-billed to distinguish from the Red-Billed Tropicbird.

On Ascension, the Yellow-billed is more common than the Red-Billed, though both tropicbird species on Ascension favour nesting where the rocky terrain forms holes or small overhangs on coastal slopes or cliffs. Some nest sites will be used interchangeably by both species between breeding seasons. These are scattered throughout Letterbox Nature Reserve with many favouring the cliffs of South East Bay. They can also be found nesting on Boatswain Bird Island, and through stretches of the South and North West coasts.

Yellow-billed tropicbirds are approximately twice as abundant as the red-billed tropicbird and they are the more likely of the two to be seen on Ascension. They hunt fish and squid by performing plunge diving but will also take flying fish from the air.

Adults have white plumage with diagonal black bars across the wings as well as black wing tips, with wingspans between 89-96cm. They have a black eye stripe and a yellow beak. This species of tropicbird is slightly smaller and more graceful than the red-billed tropic bird with a faster wing beat. Adults of both sexes possess extremely elongated central tail feathers called streamers. Juveniles lack the elongated tail feathers and are faintly barred grey around the head and neck with a black tipped bill