POSTED: 19 MARCH 2006 - 10:00pm HST

Koa’e kea: White-Tailed Tropicbird

White-Tailed Tropicbird in flight displays its swallow-like tai and striking back markings

Birds and Plants of Kauai:
Koa’e kea
by Linda Pascatore on 19 March 2006

I first saw the Koa’e kea or White-tailed Tropicbird from the Kalalau lookout on Kauai. It was a breathtakingly beautiful sight to see this beautiful, graceful bird soaring the air currents near the cliff faces.

The Koa’e kea is a seabird related to boobies and frigatebirds. It plunge dives 50 to 65 feet into the ocean to catch it’s prey of fish and squid. This indigenous bird is 27 inches long, with a wingspan of 37 inches. It is white with black eye patch, black streak on upper wings, and black wing bars on the upperside. Its long, thin tail is characteristic of both the Red-tailed (Koa’e ‘ula) and White-tailed (koa’e kea) Tropicbirds.
soaring pair of Koa'e kea manuever on updraft

The birds can be found on all the main Hawaiian Islands, as well as in the west North Atlantic, the Caribbean, the South Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, and the tropical Pacific. In the Hawaiian islands, the birds are present all year round. However, in all the other locations, the birds are found on land only during the breeding season, and otherwise are ocean birds rarely seen in sight of land.

Pairs of Tropicbirds engage in aerial acrobatics during breeding season, and remain together for years. Breeding season is March through October, and one egg is lain in a nest. The nest is built by scraping out a depression in a cavity, ledge or cave on a steep cliff face. Both parents take turns sitting on the egg and feeding the baby bird. Nests are threatened by cats and rats, predators which were introduced to the Hawaiian islands.

Tropic Bird chicks in an aerie in the Seychellis Islands


For more on Hawaiian Nature see below:
Island Breath: Hawaiian Nature Menu
The Flora and Fauna of Hawaii
5 March 2006 - 8:00pm

The Hala Tree: Screw Pine Hawaiians used hala leaves for weaving lauhala mats, baskets, canoe sails
16 May 2006 - 8:00am

Kukui: The Candlenut Tree This polynesian tree is valued for its nut and the nut's special oil