White-tailed Tropicbird

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Gary R. Graves, Ph.D.

Dr. Gary Graves had an early childhood fascination with birds that eventually led him to his role as curator of birds at the National Museum of Natural History.

Photo by Don Hurlburt, Smithsonian Institution

Dr. Gary Graves is a research zoologist and curator of birds at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History where his research focuses on the ecology, biogeography, and evolution of birds. His early childhood fascination with birds led to graduate studies at Louisiana State University and Florida State University: "I am unapologetically curious about natural history and the ways that natural history observations catalyze important ecological and evolutionary discoveries." His dissertation work focused on speciation of birds in the Andes Mountains of Peru. He has also conducted fieldwork in Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, Polynesia, Canada, and in more than half the states in the USA. His current research efforts are split between the analysis of complex data sets based on the collective resources of the World's great museums and conducting field research in Jamaica, the great forests of the eastern USA, and in the Sonoran Desert.

Meet our associated expert

This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.

Make Field Book Cover

Image of White-tailed Tropicbird

Create your own field book and fill it with images and object from Q?rius! When you create a field book, you can put this image on its cover.

or Sign up




Add a comment

Be the first to leave a comment!

Red-tailed Tropicbird chick (Phaethon rubricauda) feeding young
Courtesy of Forest & Kim Starr, via BioLib.cz, CC-BY

About Tropicbirds (Order Phaethontiformes): Feeding

Tropicbirds live and feed in the tropics and subtropics. They are open ocean birds (pelagic), venturing onto land only to breed on oceanic islands. They spend most of their time flying over the ocean looking for food. Long tail feathers flutter as they swoop down to catch flying fish or dive underwater to catch fish and squid. When a tropicbird spots a prey near the water surface, it hovers and then plunges down headfirst. Special skin cells filled with air cushion its body as it strikes the ocean. Tropicbirds forage alone or in pairs, communicating with sharp whistle or trill sounds. When they are raising chicks, they make shorter foraging trips, returning to their nest sites to regurgitate food for the chicks. Each pair of tropicbirds feeds just one chick at a time, hatched out of the single egg the female lays.