Red-billed Tropicbird
Phaethon aethereus

The Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus) nests in cliff crevices, burrows, and other cavities on some islands of the Lesser Antilles, the Galapagos Islands and elsewhere. As the adult birds approach the nesting areas, they are typically moving very fast and are hard to photograph. On a visit to Saba Island in the Netherlands Antilles in 1998, I made a number of attempts to get quality photos of the birds in flight, but never got the shots I was hoping for. I was able to return in 2001 and was finally successful in getting some nice images. The adult here was photographed on the island of Saba in the Netherlands Antilles in July, 2001, with a Canon EOS 3 and an EF 500 mm F4 IS lens on Fuji Velvia pushed one stop. I have friends who used to live on Saba who were involved in a research project with this species, so we were able to see a nesting site up close. See the photos below for some examples of nest sites. Red-billed Tropicbirds are regular visitors to the United States but they do not nest here. For more information on this species, see the Arkive website account of this species which features some of my images. More images follow of Red-billed Tropicbirds in the Galapagos in 2007 and 2010.





The photo here was taken of me as I was photographing the tropicbird in the previous image. Don McGehee took the photo as we stood on the edge of a cliff 800 feet above the Caribbean far below. The tropicbirds were investigating nest sites along the top edge of the cliff and would sometimes pass quite close to us allowing me to get a number of nice shots.
In July, 1998, I was with a researcher on several occasions while young tropicbirds were being weighed, measured and banded. The opportunity allowed me to get some shots of young birds. These nests were all under the edge of boulders on the ground. These images were taken in July, 1998, on Saba in the Netherlands Antilles. These shots were taken with a Canon EOS 1N on Fuji Velvia film.
The next 2 shots are of an adult as it guards a chick (not visible). The adults will allow an observer to approach quite closely, but beware getting your hand too close as they will inflict a painful bite. The adult will defend its nest site against any intruder.
The next 2 shots show a one-day old tropicbird chick. We had been watching this egg for several days, and finally discovered that the bird hatched July 5, 1998. Bits of the egg shell can be seen around the chick. I learned later from the researcher that this chick fledged September 27.
This shot shows the young bird which was briefly removed from the nest to be weighed and measured by a researcher.
The next two shots show a bird which is near its fledging age. These shots were taken in late July, 2001, also on the island of Saba in the Netherlands Antilles.
The next 17 images were all taken in the Galapagos Islands on Espanola Island, AKA Hood Island, in July, 2007, with a Canon EOS 1D Mark III and EF 500mm F/4 L IS lens.
The next nine images show adult Red-billed Tropicbirds in flight on the Galapagos Islands in August, 2010. These images were all taken with a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV and a Sigma 50-500mm lens. The bird at right was on Plazas Island.
The next eight shots were all taken on Tower Island in the Galapagos. There were two different adult birds passing back and forth near me which allowed many opportunities to get these images.