Tropicbirds are medium-sized seabirds. The males and females look similar, with long tail streamers, webbed feet, a yellow or red bill that curves downward, and long, pointed wings. They are between 29 and 40 inches (74 and 100 centimeters) in length, with their long tails accounting for about half of that length. The wingspan of the tropicbirds is 37 to 44 inches (94 to 112 centimeters), and they weigh between 10.6 to 26.5 ounces (300 to 750 grams). Their feathers are mostly white, sometimes with a little pink, and they have black wing markings and black marks at the eyes. Red-billed tropicbirds and the young of all three species have speckled feathers on their backs.
Tropicbirds live in warm, tropical waters and breed on islands all across the oceans.
Tropicbirds build their nests on tropical islands. When they are not nesting, they fly over the ocean and rest on the water.
Flying fish are the main food of tropicbirds. They also feed on other kinds of fish and squid. They can catch flying fish in the air or fly into the water and catch prey near the surface. They usually search for food alone or in pairs, but they may also join large flocks of other seabirds.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Tropicbirds spend more time at sea than other birds in their group, which includes frigatebirds (FRIGG-it-birdz), gannets, boobies, cormorants, and pelicans. They tend to stay far away from their breeding islands, flying above the water or sitting on it, unless they are courting or nesting. They usually nest on ledges of cliffs on islands. Sometimes they crawl into holes in rocky cliffs. They may also nest in trees or on the ground under bushes that protect them from sun and rain. Ground nests are usually part of a colony, a group of seabirds nesting close together. They lay only one egg. Both parents feed and care for the chick until it is ready to fly in eleven to fifteen weeks.
TROPICBIRDS AND PEOPLE
In the early 1900s many tropicbirds were killed and their feathers were sold for making hats. The long tail feathers are still used by native island peoples to decorate traditional clothing and headdresses. Some people eat tropicbirds, including their eggs and young. Tropicbirds attract ecotourists, people who travel to see wildlife and learn about the environment, and the money spent on boat tours, hotels, and food helps the local people who live near the birds.
On some islands, tropicbirds have lost their nesting habitat.
Other birds get caught in big fishing nets at sea. Tropicbirds are sometimes harmed by oil spills because they spend so much time on the ocean. However tropicbirds are plentiful enough that they are not in danger of extinction, dying out.