Volume 50, No. 2

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Foraging ecology of Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus in the Caribbean during early chick rearing revealed by GPS tracking


1Marine Animal Ecology Group, Wageningen University, Droevendaalsesteeg 1, 6708 PB, Wageningen, The Netherlands (
2Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute, PO Box 65, St. Eustatius, Caribbean Netherlands, NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, and Utrecht University, PO Box 59, 1790 AB Den Burg, Texel, The Netherlands
3Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, USA
4US Geological Survey - South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, USA


MADDEN, H., SATGÉ, Y., WILKINSON, B. & JODICE, P.G.R. 2022. Foraging ecology of Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus in the Caribbean during early chick rearing revealed by GPS tracking. Marine Ornithology 50: 165 - 175

Received 20 January 2022, accepted 31 May 2022

Date Published: 2022/10/15
Date Online: 2022/09/22
Key words: diet, EEZ, foraging area, MPA, oceanographic variables, Phaethon aethereus, seabird


Investigating the foraging patterns of tropical seabirds can provide important information about their ocean habitat affinities as well as prey choice. Foraging studies of Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus populations in the Caribbean are lacking. We sought to rectify this by opportunistically sampling regurgitates at nest sites on the island of St. Eustatius, Lesser Antilles, and by linking the GPS tracks of foraging adults to remotely sensed environmental variables. Diet samples were dominated by Exocoetidae (59.5%) and Belonidae (14.9%), although we were unable to identify 25.5% of samples due to digestion. Tropicbirds nesting on St. Eustatius exhibited diurnal foraging patterns, foraged in deeper waters with higher chlorophyll concentration, and consumed fewer Exocoetidae species compared to travelling behaviour. The maximum distance travelled from the colony was 953.7 km, with an average trip length of 176.8 (± 249.8) km. The biologged birds crossed multiple exclusive economic zones and marine protected areas, and on that basis, we suggest that efforts to protect and conserve this species may require transboundary collaboration throughout the wider Caribbean.


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