Tale Feathers, White Tailed TropicBird

Tale Feathers White Tailed TropicBird, Phaethon lepturus. This is not a Balinese native bird. It is not even from the Indonesian islands. The Phaeton lepturus is classified as a seabird and so, you can say its residence is primarily in the oceans.

It is found in the tropical Atlantic, western Pacific and Indian Oceans. The White Tailed Tropicbird also breeds on a few Caribbean islands as well as Little Tobago. In addition to the tropical Atlantic, it nests as far north as Bermuda, where it is locally called a “longtail”.

ManButur Suantara. Wildlife Photography ManButur Sawidji

See them in Nature. Hear them in Nature. Understand and respect them in Nature.

ManButur Suantara

We have more information on the description and distribution of the White Tailed Tropicbird at the end of this article. This bird is known as the ‘utak’ or ‘itek’ by the Chamorro people of Guam. There is an interesting reference of the ‘utak’ by the Chamorro people. From their ancient folklore, they believe when the this bird flies and screams over a house that someone would soon die or, an unmarried girl is pregnant.

Many ocean communities have survival methods guided by different animals. Many fishing communities rely on ocean birds to find good fishing locations. It is no different for the Chamorro people. They would follow the ‘White Tailed TropicBird’ to find good locations for fishing.

Here are what we find so interesting in learning about these birds.

Photography unites countries through wildlife documentation

Avid bird watchers from all over the world, go out to watch birds. Whether they are from their native country or visiting from abroad birds hold the fascination of many people from all over the world. It is remarkable and satisfying to learn how much photography plays a role in this movement.

Photographers and their communities often pool together information on central platforms. Sharing information brings to light many new discoveries about different species. Identifyers, behaviours, locations. This data is useful for researchers to understand changes in the environment.

Tale Feathers White Tailed TropicBird
White Tailed Topic Bird in flight off an Indonesian coastline.

In Indonesia we share a lot of information with other countries through platforms such as ‘Burung Laut Indonesia‘ (Seabird Indonesia) and E Bird. These platforms and programs make it possible for even hobbyists to register and record sightings etc. The ability to place information in a central location makes this powerful globally.

Nature understands globalisation

Birds are one of two communities that have always been global citizens. The residents of our oceans are also migratory. The other are our winged friends. Before human beings invented aeroplanes the migratory birds of our planet have been able to touch upon many different lands.

They did so without damaging the equilibrium of the environment. Without leaving waste or negative footprint. Perhaps, we should look more to our migratory birds to learn how to be better global citizens.

Tale Feathers White Tailed Tropicbird
White Tailed TropicBird flying pairs. Photography by ManButur Suantara

The world has known how to keep things connected and balanced for a millennia. It is us who keep breaking balance within the ecosystems. We should not simply be hunting for photographs. It is a responsibility to understand and learn more about the subject that are in your photographs.

ManButur Suantara

Bali has a beautiful philosophy called Tri Hita Karana. Nature is our foremost teacher. It safeguards harmony. Taking into consideration our relationship to the Creator, Nature and with each other. This, Balinese people believe to be the law that achieves our well being.

Kaprus Jaya
Tale Feathers White Tailed Tropicbird
Tale Feathers White Tailed Tropicbird

There are similarities between old tribes of the world

In Indonesia bird watching and bird photography is increasing in popularity. That is no surprise, since we are a nation that are quite enthusiastic about birds. As mentioned previously in Tale Feathers, the Bali Myna, we are a culture that are connected to our birds whether in competitive singing, decorative and even fighting matches.

Birds hold a meaningful place in spiritual beliefs and often are carriers of messages from another world. Giving warnings or guidance. In several Indonesian islands, including Bali, we also have some birds that are believed to relay this message as well. Of death or coming birth.

In Bali the sound made by ravens or a Tuwu bird (Asian Koel) is strongly believed to mean that there I some kind of danger in the area. Some species of owls, when they make sound close to home on particular days, is believed be a harbinger of a pregnancy. It seems that many tribes across the world have very similar relationships towards birds and their symbolic and spiritual meanings.

Tale Feathers White Tailed TropicBird

‘This was the first time I photographed the White Tailed TropicBird. You just hear the sound at the beginning. You swipe and spot check the horizon,. and slowly they come closer. And there’s definitely something really special about them coming into your line of vision..’

~ ManButur Suantara

Are they hard to find?

When you know where they have been sighted during their migratory periods. It is not so difficult. You just have to research their migratory patters and go to the location at the appropriate time.

Wildlife Photography ManButur Sawidji Art
White Tailed TropicBird flying pairs. Photography by ManButur Suantara

What do you find most intriguing about them?

They are beautiful. They are different from other sea birds in general. Their colour pattern, their tails. Their design is different. A lot more graceful you could say. The way they fly and move is very elegant. It is hypnotic.

What did you learn from your study of this bird?

They fly in pairs. Usually when feeding. This bird flies in groups, maybe family groups. I learned that in some places where human traffic is still not over crowded, birds like this can be extremely comfortable around our presence. They did not shy away.

Their behaviour remained natural around us. They did not choose to fly at a greater distance from us. Maybe this means they might be curious as well. Another thing I learned.. is that they are not endangered and this is good news.

Tale Feathers White Tailed TropicBird Wildlife Photography ManButur Sawidji
White Tailed TropicBird. Photography by ManButur Suantara

Tale Feathers Photography Tips

Technically, the parameters for getting a good photograph of a sea bird means you are very close to the sea. Or in the middle of the ocean. In this case, we were on cliff sides terrain. So, your technical requirements are not that different from other times when you are photographing moving wildlife.

However one thing very important are the safety precautions you should always be aware of. You are on a cliffside. On the edge of a cliff. Photographing moving wildlife, can be extremely mesmerising. You should never lose focus of where you are. The consequences can very well be fatal.

A moment to enjoy a perfect example of Natures’ perfect artistry..

We often hear words praising Nature’s artistry. Our beautiful, wondrous planet full of wondrous beauty. Here, in the elegance, the fluidity and grace of the White Tailed TropicBird, we see one of the sky’s ballerinas captured in a photograph. The photographer here is a simple witness to a dance performed in the sky to no audience but the ocean and the clouds.


The adult white-tailed tropicbird is a slender, mainly white bird, 71–80 cm long including the very long central tail feathers, which double its total length. The wingspan is 89–96 cm. The bird has a black band on the inner wing, a black eye-mask, and an orange-yellow to orange-red bill.[3] The bill colour, pure white back and black wing bar distinguish this species from the red-billed tropicbird.

The white-tailed tropicbird breeds on tropical islands, laying a single egg directly onto the ground or a cliff ledge. It disperses widely across the oceans when not breeding, and sometimes wanders far. It feeds on fish and squid, caught by surface plunging, but this species is a poor swimmer. The call is a high screamed keee-keee-krrrt-krrt-krrt.

Males and females are similar. Although males on average have longer tails the juveniles lack the tail streamers. They have a green-yellow bill, and a finely barred back. The white-tailed tropicbird does not have a yearly breeding cycle. Instead breeding frequency depends on the climate and availability of suitable breeding sites. The bird can reproduce 10 months after the last successful breeding, or 5 months after an unsuccessful one. (reference: wikipedia).

Latest Posts by ManButur Sawidji

Subscribe for updates..

Sawidji Studio Newsletter
Join our Community Newsletter. Great articles on Art and Photography in your inbox every month for FREE

Don't miss out on great tips!

We don’t spam! Read our Privacy Policy for more info.

One Comment Add yours

what did you find most interesting?