Red-tailed tropical bird from Christmas Island threatened by feral cats and climate change

Christmas Island tropical birds have long been a common sight in the skies north of Australia’s northern Indian Ocean with their elongated tails flapping in the sea breeze.

But a sharp decline in the population of one subspecies, the red-tailed tropicbird or silver bosun, has drawn the attention of the endangered species commission.

An estimated 3,350 individuals remain, a number that represents a 36 percent population drop over a 30-year period, attributed primarily to predation by cats and rats.

The Silvery Bosun is best known for its immense tail feathers, known as streamers, which can extend for 35 centimeters behind the bird which can reach around a meter in length.

The main population of the bird can be found on Christmas Island, an Australian territory that lies about 1,550 kilometers off the coast of Exmouth in Western Australia.

A bird with golden feathers and a long tail flies over the waters of Christmas Island.
The white-tailed tropicbird of the Indian Ocean or the Christmas Island golden bosun.(ABC: Peter de Kruijff)

The bird is also found on Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Ashmore Reef, and Rowley Shoals.

In the past three decades, the silvery bosun has stopped breeding on Houtman Abrolhos Islands off the Midwestern coast and Sugarloaf Rock in the Southwest.

Its relative, the white-tailed tropicbird, which only breeds on Christmas Island and is known as the golden bosun because of its unique apricot plumage, has already garnered an endangered species list.

Climate change a factor

Threatened Species Commissioner Fiona Fraser said threats to the bird included cats, rats and yellow crazy ants.

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