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The information presented here is identical to that contained in the fifth edition of the Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand (Checklist Committee 2022). To access a pdf version of the Checklist click here.

Symbols and Abbreviations
➤ Indicates a species (cf. subspecies)
AIM, Auckland War Memorial Museum
NMNZ, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington

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The tropicbirds and the related prehistoric family Prophaethontidae are best considered a distinct order (G. Mayr 2003; Fain & Houde 2004; Bourdon et al. 2005; Ericson et al. 2006; Christidis & Boles 2008; Hackett et al. 2008).

Family PHAETHONTIDAE Brandt: Tropicbirds

Phaëthontes Brandt, 1840: Mem. l’Acad. Imp. Sci., St Petersburg (series 6) 5(2): 239 – Type genus Phaëthon Linnaeus, 1758.

Genus Phaethon Linnaeus

Phaëthon Linnaeus, 1758: Syst. Nat., 10th edition 1: 134 – Type species (by subsequent designation) Phaethon aethereus Linnaeus.

Phaëton Linnaeus, 1766: Syst. Nat., 12th edition 1: 219. Unjustified emendation.

Lepturus Reichenbach, 1853: Avium Syst. Nat. 2(1): 7 – Type species (by monotypy) Lepturus edwardsii Reichenbach = Phaethon lepturus Daudin. Junior homonym of Lepturus Brisson, 1760.

Phoenicurus Bonaparte, 1857: Conspectus Gen. Avium 2: 183 – Type species (by original designation) Phoenicurus rubricauda Bonaparte = Phaethon rubricauda Boddaert. Junior homonym of Phoenicurus T. Forster, 1817.

Scaeophaëthon Mathews, 1913: Austral Avian Rec. 2: 56 – Type species (by original designation) Phaethon rubricauda westralis Mathews. Unnecessary nomen novum for Phoenicurus Bonaparte, 1857.

Leptophaëthon Mathews, 1913: Austral Avian Rec. 2: 56 – Type species (by original designation) Phaethon lepturus dorotheae Mathews. Unnecessary nomen novum for Lepturus Reichenbach, 1853.

Phaethon rubricauda Boddaert
Red-tailed Tropicbird | Amokura

Phaeton rubricauda Boddaert, 1783: Tables des Planches Enluminéez d’Histoire Naturelle de M. d’Aubenton: 57 – Mauritius.

Phaëton phoenicuros Gmelin, 1789: Syst. Nat., 13th edition 1(2): 583. Based on the “Red-tailed Tropic Bird” of Latham 1785, Gen. Synop. Birds 3(2): 619 – Indian and Southern Oceans.

Phaëthon novae-hollandiae Brandt, 1840: Mem. l’Acad. Imp. Sci., St Petersburg (series 6) 5(2): 272 – Lord Howe Island, Australia.

Phaëton phoenicurus Gmelin; Von Pelzeln 1860, Sitzungsber. K. Akad. Wissen., Math.-Naturwissen. Cl., Wien 41: 331. Unjustified emendation.

Phaëthon rubricauda erubescens Rothschild, 1900: Avifauna Laysan 3: 296 – Kermadec Islands. Junior primary homonym of Phaeton erubescens G.R. Gray, 1844.

Phaëthon rubricauda Boddaert; Hutton 1904, Index Faunae N.Z.: 33.

Scaeophaethon rubricauda novaehollandiae (Brandt); Mathews 1913, List Birds Australia: 100.

Phaethon rubricauda novaehollandiae Brandt; Mathews & Iredale 1913, Ibis 1 (10th series): 418.

Scaeophaëthon rubricauda roseotincta Mathews, 1926: Bull. Brit. Ornith. Club 46: 60. Unnecessary nomen novum for Phaëthon rubricauda erubescens Rothschild, 1900.

Phaethon rubricaudus Boddaert; Stidolph 1927, Emu 26: 215. Unjustified emendation.

Phaethon rubricauda roseotincta (Mathews); Checklist Committee 1953, Checklist N.Z. Birds: 28.

Phaethon rubricauda Boddaert; Checklist Committee 1990, Checklist Birds N.Z.: 76.

Breeds on islands of the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans, including Lord Howe, Norfolk, and Kermadec Islands / Rangitāhua. Several subspecies described but none are recognised here, following Tarburton (1989). About 33 records from mainland New Zealand; mainly from the north of the North Island, particularly about Manawatāwhi / Three Kings Islands, where it has been seen ashore (Checklist Committee 1990; Marchant & Higgins 1990; Tennyson & Eller 1991; Durey 1992; Powlesland & Powlesland 1993; G. Taylor 2004; Miskelly, Crossland et al. 2017). Rarely further south – Feb. 1951 and Apr. 1961 west of Taranaki, 1955–58 Akaroa (Canterbury; the southernmost record), Jan. 1976 south of Whanganui, Jul. 1996 Paekakariki; rarely inland – Feb. 1936 and May 1978 Taupo, Apr. 1976 near Lake Okataina, Apr. 1996 near Pureora (Bull et al. 1985; Marchant & Higgins 1990; Tarburton 1993; Powlesland 1996; Tennyson & Lock 1998).

Phaethon lepturus Daudin
White-tailed Tropicbird

Phaethon lepturus Daudin, 1802: in Buffon, Histoire Naturelle, Quadrup. 14: 319 – Mauritius, Indian Ocean.

Six subspecies breeding on islands as follows: tropical Indian Ocean, Ph. l. lepturus (several islands), Ph. l. fulvus Brandt, 1838 (Christmas Island, North Indian Ocean); Pacific Ocean, Ph. l. dorotheae; Atlantic Ocean, Ph. l. ascensionis (Mathews, 1915); Europa Island, Mozambique Channel, Ph. l. europae Le Corre & Jouventin, 1999; Caribbean Sea, Ph. l. catesbyi Brandt, 1838 (Dorst & Mougin 1979; Le Corre & Jouventin 1999; Dickinson 2003). The subspecies are considered poorly defined (del Hoyo et al. 1992) with no races recognised by some authors (e.g. Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Phaethon lepturus dorotheae Mathews
White-tailed Tropicbird

Phaethon lepturus dorotheae Mathews, 1913: Austral Avian Rec. 2: 7 – Queensland, Australia.

Leptophaethon lepturus dorotheae (Mathews); Mathews 1913, List Birds Australia: 101.

Phaethon lepturus dorotheae Mathews; Checklist Committee 1980, Notornis (Suppl.) 27: 12.

Phaethon lepturus; J. Moore 1999, Notornis 46: 357. Not Phaethon lepturus Daudin, 1802.

Breeds on islands in the Pacific but not in the New Zealand region. Straggles to northern New Zealand (see Marchant & Higgins 1990): Bay of Plenty, Jan. 1973 (S. Brown 1973); near Okato, Taranaki, Feb. 1979 (the southernmost record); Dargaville, Feb. 1979; Muriwai, Jun. 1979; Ninety Mile Beach, Mar. and May 1983; Omamari Beach, Apr. 1983; Motukawanui Island, Cavalli Group, Dec. 1985 (AIM LB1476); Waikuku Beach and Great Exhibition Bay, Jan. 1986; Ruakaka, Jan. 1989 (Gordon 1989; Guest & Bell 1989; Checklist Committee 1990); Whangarei, Mar. 1997 (NMNZ 25640); Tokerau Beach, Jan. 1999 (G. Taylor 2004); Karioitahi Beach, Oct. 2000 (AIM LB9487); Ninety Mile Beach, Apr. 2006 (L. Howell & Esler 2007); Tawharanui, North Auckland, Feb. 2011; Tauranga Harbour, Jan. 2012 (Miskelly et al. 2013).