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The Tropic Bird

The Tropic Bird

The definitive website on wildbirds & nature

Birds of America

By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.


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[White-tailed Tropicbird.]

[Phaeton lepturus.]


The specimens from which the figures in the plate were taken, were obtained on the Tortugas, in the summer of 1832, by my kind friend ROBERT DAY, Esq. of the United States revenue cutter Marion. They were shot out of a flock of eight or ten, and were in fine condition. I have represented the male and female, in what I suppose to be their full summer or breeding plumage; but not having had an opportunity of studying the habits of this remarkable bird, I am unable to give any information respecting them.

PHAETON AETHEREUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 409.
TROPIC BIRD, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 503.

TROPIC BIRD, Phaeton aethereus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii. p. 442.

Male, 29 1/2, 38. Female, 26, 34.

Rare on the coast of Florida. Migratory.

Adult Male in summer.

Bill as long as the head, stout, very much compressed, slightly curved, tapering, acute. Upper mandible with the dorsal line slightly arched, the ridge narrow, but rounded, the sides sloping and slightly convex at the base, nearly perpendicular towards the end, the edges sharp, irregularly broken, the tip acute. Nasal groove short, near the ridge; nostrils linear, very small. Lower mandible with the angle of moderate length, extremely narrow, the dorsal line straight and ascending, the sides erect and slightly convex, the edges sharp but irregularly serrated, the tip very acute.

Head rather large, ovate. Neck short and thick. Body rather full. Feet very short; tibia bare for a considerable space; tarsus extremely short, roundish, covered all round with small round scales; toes rather small, placed in the same place, and connected by reticulated webs; the first toe very small, the third and fourth about equal, all scutellate above. Claws small, arched, compressed, rather sharp, that of middle toe largest, with an undulated thin inner edge.

Plumage soft, blended, on the back and wings rather compact. Wings long, acute; primaries strong, tapering, the first longest, the rest rapidly graduated; secondaries very short, incurved, rounded, the inner longer. Tail of twelve feathers, wedge-shaped, the two middle feathers extremely elongated, narrow, and tapering.

Bill orange-red. Iris brown. Tarsi and base of toes yellow, the rest and the webs black, as are the claws. The general colour of the plumage is pale pink, or white tinged with carmine, the two middle tail feathers redder. A curved spot before the eye, and band behind it, black. A band of the same colour extends across the wing from the flexure, running narrow along the middle coverts, much enlarged on the inner secondaries and their coverts, and including the extremities of the scapulars. The outer webs, shafts, and a portion of the inner webs of the first four primary quills, are also black, and there is a spot of the same on some of the primary coverts. The shafts of the two middle tail feathers are black, excepting towards the end; and some of the long hypochondrical feathers are greyish-black in the centre.

Length to end of tail 29 1/2 inches, to end of wings 16, to end of claw 14; extent of wings 38; wing from flexure 11 1/4; tail 19 1/8; bill along the ridge 2, along the edge of lower mandible 2 3/4; tarsus 1 10/12; middle toe 1 4/12, its claw (4 1/2)/12. Weight 15 oz.

Adult Female.

The female resembles the male, but is less tinged with red. The bill is yellow, the iris and feet as in the male. The tail-feathers are also less elongated.

Length to end of tail 26 inches, to end of wings 14 1/4, to end of claws 13; wing from flexure 11; tail 16; extent of wings 34; bill along the ridge 11/12, along the edge of lower mandible 2 1/2; tarsus 10/12; middle toe 1 4/12, its claw (4 1/2)/12. Weight 12 oz.

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