Subscribe to BirdNote

Sign up to receive a weekly email preview of the following week's shows!

Sign Up
Support BirdNote

Help BirdNote tell more stories, reach more people, and inspire action.


You are here

Gliding with Tropicbirds

Maybe it's time for a trip to Hawaii!
© William Hull View Large

With the strong, direct flight of a falcon, a tropicbird can catch a flying fish on the wing, or plunge like an arrow into the sea and — with its serrated bill — capture a squid. Three species of tropicbirds range through most of the tropical latitudes of the world's oceans, and have done so for 60 million years. These are the Red-tailed Tropicbird, (like this one), the White-tailed Tropicbird, and the Red-billed Tropicbird.
Support for BirdNote comes from Bloomsbury, announcing the new book "Winter Birds" with paintings by artist and ornithologist Lars Jonsson. Available wherever books are sold.

Full Transcript

Gliding with Tropicbirds

Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote!

"Tropicbird."  The name alone evokes a warm breeze and a place where green islands dot a shimmering blue ocean. [Hawaiian slack key melody]

Picture a streamlined, sparkling white seabird, with a red spear of a bill and luxuriantly long tail-streamers. With the strong, direct flight of a falcon, a tropicbird can catch a flying fish on the wing, or plunge like an arrow into the sea and—with its serrated bill—capture a squid. [Red-tailed Tropicbird vocalizations]

Birds of such elegant natural design seem creatures of myth. And in fact, their scientific name links directly to Greek mythology, as tropicbirds belong to the genus Phaeton. Phaeton, the son of Apollo, hurtled through the sky in the chariot of the sun, only to plunge into the River Eridanus.
Myth, sun, and sea — there’s that warm ocean breeze again. Maybe it’s time for a trip to Hawaii. Visit the island of Kauai, and you can easily see one of these near-mythical birds, its glistening white form floating in the air just beyond a sea cliff’s edge. [Hawaiian slack key melody]

Tropicbirds have ranged through most of the tropical latitudes of the world’s oceans for 60 million years. 

For BirdNote, I'm Mary McCann. If you know someone who might enjoy today's program, send them to our website,


Call of the Red-tailed Tropicbird provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by C. Robbins.
 “Aloha Wau la Oe” by P. Cosma. Performed by the Ho’opi’i Brothers, from “Aloha From Maui”: Mountain Apple Company: 1999.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Ambient waves by Kessler Productions.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2016 Tune In to   January 2014/2018   Narrator:  Mary McCann

ID# 011107RTTRKPLU          RTTR-01b



Sights & Sounds


By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.