White-tailed tropicbird, truly an oceanic bird.
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White-tailed tropicbird, truly an oceanic bird

November 22, 2004

Out of the three species of tropicbirds around the world, only White-tailed tropicbird is found in the Maldive Islands. White-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus) is a graceful tropical seabird with short black eye stripe and orange bill, locally known as Dhadifulhudhooni. Adult birds have mostly white plumage with long, white, tail streamers (33-40 cm). Dhadifulhu is referred locally to the long white tail streamers of the tropicbird and Dhooni to a bird. White-tailed tropicbird has got very short webbed legs, their short legs are adapted for diving and swimming and if it attempt to stand, normally topple forward, as its legs are placed well back on the body. White-tailed tropicbirds are elegant companions of our local fishermen on the Ocean.

A single grayish-speckled egg is laid on ground in root base of wild screw pines
A single grayish-speckled egg is laid on
ground in root base of wild screw pines

Although White-tailed tropicbird is a common bird throughout the Maldives, their estimated population and its nesting islands are not surveyed. In April 2004, six pairs of known breeding pairs nested on the uninhabited island Randheli of Noon Atoll. Around five or six pairs of White-tailed tropicbirds are a typical number found on an uninhabited island of the Maldives.

Feeding Habits
White-tailed tropicbird is typically a solitary feeder, however sometimes seen in pairs. In Randelhi, in April 2004, White-tailed tropicbirds were found as a solitary feeder gliding lonely hunting for squid and fish. As all the birds were nesting at that time, they could be hunting solitarily leaving partner on the nest. White-tailed tropicbirds, in hunting hit the water and submerge completely to grab and swallow prey before take off. Some cases when White-tailed tropicbird take off with the swallow prey, frigate bird chase tropicbird, pull its tail streamers, so that White-tailed tropicbird hang upside down, swollen prey drops and frigate bird picks the tropicbird’s prey in the air. A magnificent scene witnessed by some of our local fishermen.

White-tailed tropicbirds begin nesting at four years of age, and normally nest in small, loose colonies on uninhabited islands in the Maldives. Adult pairs perform fabulous display flights over their breeding islands, and the fluffy down-covered baby chicks are about as sweet as birds can get. Courting birds fly in parallel, with streamers from bird above turned downward toward mate. Fly together in shallow glides.

Both parents are on the nest
Both parents are on the nest

Nest year round with peak activity from March through October. On Randelhi, birds nest in root bases of wild screw pines (Pandanus tectorus) and/or other secluded spots. Randheli is an uninhabited island free from predator. A single grayish-speckled egg is laid on ground and incubated by both parents for about a month; the young are fully fledged about 10 weeks later. Average incubation shift lengths range from about 4-8 days. Chicks are strongly brooded for the few days after hatching. Unlike other sea birds of the same family, adults, White-tailed tropicbirds regurgitate food by putting their bills down the gaping chick's throat.

No vegetation patches are used by White-tailed tropicbirds as air strip to take off and land
No vegetation patches are used by White-tailed tropicbirds as
air strip to take off and land

All the nests on Randheli were built close to patches where there is no vegetation, the no vegetation areas are used by White-tailed tropicbirds in Randheli as air strip to take off and land after long hours of hunting.

White-tailed tropicbird is a protected bird in the Maldives; hence, their capture, sale and captivity have been prohibited. However, there are no vital conservation measures taken to protect the nesting habitats of White-tailed tropicbirds and other birds in the Maldives, except declaring uninhabited island, Hithaadhoo in Huvadhu Atoll as protected. Hithaadhoo is famous for nesting of frigate birds and small numbers of White-tailed tropicbirds.