Phaethon lepturus catesbyi. - Yellow billed, white-tailed tropic bird, not indigenous but native. It is a national symbol and many souvenirs and pieces of jewelry are made with its image, some locally in gold and silver. The white-tailed tropic bird - or Longtail as Bermudians know it - is Bermuda's traditional harbinger of spring and one of the most beautiful features of our coastline during the summer months. Nesting from April to October in holes and crevices of the coastal cliffs arid islands - mostly in the Castle Harbour islands - where it is safer from human disturbance and introduced mammal predators, it is the only native seabird to have survived in numbers comparable to its primeval abundance on Bermuda. Once, up to about 1978, at least 3,000 nesting pairs used to breed along most of the coastline but the numbers have declined steadily due to coastline development, increased disturbance from an expanding population, and predation by illegally-stray stray dogs, cats, crows and oil pollution at sea. Also, they compete with pigeons for nests. Other factors include global warming and its higher sea levels that flood lower nest sites. Hurricanes Felix and Adrian in September 2004 destroyed many nests and filled others with rock.
There is a Longtail housing crisis. To try to solve the problem of weather, nature and global warming, Longtail igloos were invented in 1997 as an emergency measure to provide alternative nesting sites. They are made of SKB roofing material and provide good insulation and shelter from the sun. They are light but strong with a concrete covering that provides camouflage and holds the nest in place. 35 Longtail igloos are now in place on Nonsuch Island and seem to be working well.
Longtails have such small feet that they are unable to walk on land and hence do their entire nest searching on the wing. It is this constant searching back and forth along the cliffs, combined with their aerial courtship display, which involves touching the tips of the long tail feathers together in paired flight that makes them so conspicuous on our coastline. The single purplish-red speckled egg is laid in April and hatches in late May. The chick takes approximately 65 days to fledge and departs to sea on its own in late July or early August.
Longtails do all of their feeding far out on the open ocean where they plunge from a height onto unsuspecting fish and squid like a gannet. During the winter months, the population disperses throughout the Sargasso Sea and remains out of sight of land. Evidently, the birds sleep on the wing or on the water if it is calm.
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