Red Tailed Tropic Bird, Paille en Queue

Phaethon rubricauda and Phaethon lepturus

Photo: Dr. Nik Cole

Tropic Bird, Paille en queue

Species type: Bird
Species (Common name): Tropic Bird (Red Tailed Tropic Bird and White Tailed Tropic Bird), Paille en Queue
Scientific name: Phaethon rubricauda and Phaethon lepturus
Endemism: Pantropical
Conservation status: Least concern

Description: There are three different species of Tropic Bird which are found throughout the tropical parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Two of which are found in Mauritius where they are known as paille en queue (straw tail) because of their characteristic long thin central tail feathers which account for about half their length.
The white-tailed tropic bird has a black band on the inner wing, white tail feathers and an orange-yellow to orange red bill in contrast to the red-tailed tropicbird which has no black band, red tail feathers and a bright red bill. The plumage of the red-tailed tropicbird often has a pinkish tinge. The red-tailed tropicbird is larger than the white-tailed and less common. Tropic birds feed at sea, mainly on fish, particularly flying fish, but may supplement this with squid and crustaceans.

Fun facts:

  1. Tropic Birds are very strong fliers and are a common sight in Mauritius which is probably why they were chosen as the emblem of Air Mauritius.
  2. In contrast with their flying capabilities, tropic birds are not strong swimmers and they can barely walk.
  3. Tropic Birds have a loud scream which is the reason that they are sometimes known as bosun birds. A ships bosun, boatswains or petty officer is responsible for maintenance and uses a loud, shrill whistle to catch the attention of sailors.
  4. Tropic Birds nest in holes and crevices on bare ground in islets off Mauritius but are restricted to cavities and ledges on cliff faces in mainland Mauritius. These inaccessible areas are probably relatively safe from introduced mammals such as rats and monkeys that can feed on eggs and chicks.