Friday, January 1, 2016

Bird of the Month: Red-billed Tropicbird

The Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus) is a widespread resident of the east Pacific, east and south Atlantic, Caribbean and the northwestern corner of the Indigo Oceans, where it is quite sedentary close to its nesting islands.  Few birds equal in beauty and elegance the tropicbird in flight, and a flock of these birds circling close to their nesting islands is an amazing event!
Red-billed Tropicbird
In Panama, it is regularly found around the Swan Cay (off Colon Island, Bocas del Toro province), where it breeds.  In fact, all the photos of this post are from that colony.  Is very rare elsewhere in Panamanian waters.
Cay off Colon Island, Bocas del Toro (Panama)

The first time we saw this bird, my wife and I were in the islands for our honeymoon.  We took a quick boat trip around Colon Island making several stops in the way, including the Swan Cays, where she took the next photo with her point-and-shoot camera.
Red-billed Tropicbird
Eight years it took to return to see these spectacular birds; this time both of us (plus our daughter and nephew) were able to see them in detail... including their coral-red bills, bicolored feet, bandit-like mask and, of course, the long central tail feathers.
Red-billed Tropicbird
They are powerful flyers, and feed by plunge-diving on flying fish and squids.  The birds that we saw were chasing each other and approaching the cliff edges where other birds were already resting.  They share the cays with Brown Boobies and Magnificent Frigatebird; although doesn't compete directly for nesting sites.
Red-billed Tropicbird
For these, and many other reasons, is why we chose the Red-billed Tropicbird as our Bird of the Month!

Literature consulted:
1. Ridgely R, Gwynne J. A guide to the birds of Panama. Princeton Univerity Press 1989.
2. Angehr G, Dean R. The birds of Panama. A field guide. Zona Tropical 2010.
3. Orta, J., Jutglar, F., Bonan, A., Garcia, E.F.J., Kirwan, G.M. & Boesman, P. (2016). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 1 January 2016).

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