Finding the longtail chick in Bermuda

During a 3-year work-related stay in Bermuda (2009 – 2011), I found myself mesmerized by the beautiful big white birds that soar over the Atlantic waves from spring to the end of summer. They were unmistakenly Tropicbirds or Longtails. Their popular name says it all; adults over the age of 2 have a long tailfeather that enables them to perform the most impressive acrobatics over the cliffs of the island’s shoreline.

The type most encountered in Bermuda is the Red-billed Tropicbird, Phaethon aethereus, also known as the Boatswain Bird. They are considered the bringers of spring and their leaving the islands is seen as the end of summer. They are Bermuda’s national symbol appearing on coins and many other objects.

The birds come to shore for nesting between April and October. Due to damage along the coastline caused by hurricanes and tourist developments, their habitat has been under threat and their numbers have steadily declined. Some organisations, such as the Bermuda Maritime Society, build artificial nests for them in the shape of igloos. As long as they are left alone by mankind and by devastating hurricane winds and waves, the birds readily breed there. But there are still a lot of fairly inaccessible cliff nests as well. I was fortunate to stumble on two accessible natural nests in my very last year on the islands.

I approached them with great caution and never disclosed the locations to anyone. It felt like the longtails allowed me to come and make pictures every other week and my biggest reward was the day that I realised that one of the breeding couples had a chick. I was able to record its development until it fledged, 3 months later. As it got closer to flying out, I minimized my visits, as any disturbance may cause the chick to fledge prematurely. It meant I missed the actual fledging and one day stared into an empty nest…

I collected the photographs in a beautiful photobook, that you can order from this website. I am working on a third edition that will be finished soon. Let me know if you are interested in ordering and I will contact you with all the details (see contact page for contact form).

The last 2 copies of both editions of the Longtail book have recently been sold… But… if you are interested, I can put you on the waiting list for a reprint… contact me via the contact page to let me know…