Red-tailed Tropic Bird
The Red-Tailed Tropic Bird (Phaethon rubricauda) has been recorded nesting on Lady Elliot Island since 1983. There are 23 nest locations on the island with up to 8 pairs of birds having been recorded nesting on the island at one time. Movements and ecology of these birds at sea is still poorly understood as they are a truly oceanic bird. Since 1993 there has been a banding program carried out on Lady Elliot with the assistance of members of QPWS.
Adult - description
Length:46 cm (not including tail streamers)
weight: 736gm (females slightly larger)
Plumage almost entirely white, with pink tinge just after molting. Two long central tail streamers. Bill red, legs blue grey, black line through eye. Sexes similar.
Immature - description
Similar to adult but lacks tail streamers and pink tinge. Upper wings extensively barred black, bill yellowish.
Red-tailed Tropic birds pelagic feeders. They dive from heights of up to 14m and have air sacs between their vertebra and on their breast to help cushion the impact when they dive into the water. They feed mainly on flying fish and surface living squid. Their legs are situated quite a long way back on their body, this enables them to swim well, however it does make them very clumsy when they are landing and when they are landing and moving around on land.
Widespread in tropical regions of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They are on Oceanic bird, rarely alighting on the water, coming to land only on the nest.
So far information gathered on the island indicates that the birds will keep the same breeding partner, nesting location and even the same month in which they breed, each year. On Lady Elliot nesting occurs almost all year, with a small break in April/may with no birds on the Island. Courtship patterns involve aerobatic displays that consist of calling, spiraling and mirror flying. A "wind milling" effect often occurs when 2-5 birds spiral around each other like a Ferris wheel. Nest sites are chosen and prepared by teh male, who removes twigs and leaves with their beaks, and create a scrape in the sand in preparation for the egg. Approximately one month after the initial nest site has been prepared: the female will arrive at the nest site to lay a single egg. Both adults take turns at incubating the egg, changing over every 2-6 days. Incubation of egg takes approximately 41 to 48 days. Once the chick emerges both parents share the feeding. When returning from the sea the parent places their bill inside the chicks bill and regurgitates its food. Once the chick is able to regulate its own body temperature both parents may leave the nest for extended periods. The chick is left to sleep and grow as its parents fly back and forth with food. Chicks fledge at 12 weeks.