The Red-Billed Tropicbird can be found in various locations throughout the Pacific and Atlantic tropics, but the Galapagos is home to one of the key population centres. These are true seabirds, who spend most of their time far from land, only coming ashore to breed and nest. They prefer to seek out remote and secluded places, which is why they have been coming to the Galapagos for millennia.
At first sight, the Red-Billed Tropicbird looks similar in shape to terns and related seabirds, but then you notice the distinctive elongated tail streamers. When floating on the surface of the ocean, they hold their long tails up out of the water, giving them a distinctive look. They also sport a crimson beak, which gives them their name, and a jet black stripe through the eye giving them a striking appearance in flight.
They are strong swimmers, and they hunt by plunge-diving from height into the water to spear fish or squid. This specialisation makes them very ungainly on land, where they are barely able to walk, having to use their wings to push themselves along on their bellies. This makes them vulnerable, which is why remote and untouched places like the Galapagos are important breeding sites for them.
In Galapagos, the Tropicbirds can breed year round, and they nest in colonies - prefer either rocky crevices, or on sheltered bare ground. Although the red-billed tropicbird is doing well on the archipelago, worldwide this species is the most at risk of all the tropicbirds. It’s estimated that there are only 7,500 left throughout the world, with a significant percentage of these calling the Galapagos home.
Fast Facts about the Red-Billed Tropicbird
- The Red-Billed Tropicbird is the largest of the world's tropicbird species
- They don't like getting their beautiful tail streamers wet, and will hold them up when floating on the water!
- Tropicbirds are pelagic - that is they spend all of their time out at sea, returning to land only to breed
- Although doing well on Galapagos, there are thought to be only 7,500 red-billed tropicbirds in the world