red-tailed tropicbird chick, Phaethon aethereus (1)

photo: Pete Leary

Habitat: widespread seabird found across the tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It breeds on remote tropical islands in the southern Indian Ocean and between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn in the Pacific, as far east as the Hawaiian Islands, and also on the south-west Australian coast; outside breeding season may travel as far north as Japan and as far south as New Zealand
Status: Least Concern

After a not-so-wonderful weekend I’m in serious need of a creature to lift my spirits. Naturally, I knew I needed something cute, fluffy, and itty-bitty – which is the recipe for instant happiness. So, I decided to go with a Red-tailed Tropicbird chick (Phaethon rubricauda) to get the job done. Because I mean, just look at this thing. The chicks look like they’re being overtaken by white fluff to the point where only their tiny black beaks and beady little eyes remain visible. They look that way because that’s actually what’s happening.

In six weeks time the chicks reach an adult weight and after 12-13 weeks fledging occurs. Eventually, the tiny balls of fluff will morph into these stunning seabirds that have impressive aerial abilities. The Red-tailed Tropicbirds can remain at sea for an indefinite time, flying with rapid wing-beats and soaring upwards on rising thermals. In hunting mode, the birds will spiral downwards from 15 to 20 meters in height, plunging into the ocean and capturing prey in its serrated beak.

However, just because they’ve got smooth moves in the air doesn’t mean they’re so agile on the ground. In fact, they’re pretty terrible at all land movement. To get around, they lie on their bellies, pushing themselves along with their webbed feet. Sometimes they’ll even stab their bills into the ground to pull themselves forward.

Here you can see them hobble around in all their glory:


Lookin’ good guys, lookin’ rreeaalll good.

To end things on a sweet note, here’s a quick vid that shows the adorable fluff baby: