'Golden bosunbird', the yellow form of the white-tailed tropicbird Phaethon lepturus, photographed by Jeff Blincow.

Belongs within: Neoaves.

The Phaethontes include the modern tropicbirds (Phaethon) and their fossil relatives. Tropicbirds are pelagic plunge-diving birds with predominantly white plumage, much reduced legs and the central two tail feathers extended into an elongate train. Their fossil record potentially goes back to the Palaeogene, with the Prophaethontidae recorded from the Palaeocene of North America and the Eocene of Europe. Prophaethontids do, however, also share some features with the modern Procellariiformes that could cast some uncertainty over their relationship to tropicbirds (Mayr 2005).

Characters (from Olson 1985): Procoracoid foramen present; well-developed pectoral crest; scapula with poorly developed acromion process.

<==Phaethontes [Phaethontiformes]
    |--Prophaeton Andrews 1899 M02 [Prophaethontidae M05]
    |    `--*P. shrubsolei Andrews 1899 M02
    `--Phaethontidae M02
         |--Heliadornis Olson 1985 M02
         |    |--*H. ashbyi Olson 1985 M02
         |    `--H. paratethydicus Mlíkovský 1997 M02
         `--Phaethon Linnaeus 1758 B94
              |  i. s.: P. candidus [incl. P. falvirostris] S66
              |--P. aethereus JT12
              `--+--P. lepturus JT12 [incl. P. l. fulvus M03]
                 |    |--P. l. lepturus R85
                 |    `--P. l. dorotheae Mathews 1913 R85
                 `--P. rubricauda Boddaert 1783 JT12, WH02 [incl. P. rubricauda westralis Mathews 1912 WS48]
                      |--P. r. rubricauda R85
                      `--P. r. roseotincta Mathews 1926 R85

*Type species of generic name indicated


[B94] Bock, W. J. 1994. History and nomenclature of avian family-group names. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 222: 1-281.

[JT12] Jetz, W., G. H. Thomas, J. B. Joy, K. Hartmann & A. Ø. Mooers. 2012. The global diversity of birds in space and time. Nature 491: 444-448.

[M05] Mayr, G. 2005. The Paleogene fossil record of birds in Europe. Biological Reviews 80: 515-542.

[M02] Mlíkovský, J. 2002. Cenozoic Birds of the World. Part 1: Europe. Ninox Press: Praha.

[M03] Morcombe, M. 2003. Field Guide to Australian Birds, 2nd ed. Steve Parish Publishing.

Olson, S. L. 1985. A new genus of tropicbird (Pelecaniformes: Phaethontidae) from the Middle Miocene Calvert Formation of Maryland. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 98 (4): 851-855.

[R85] Robertson, C. J. R. (ed.) 1985. Reader’s Digest Complete Book of New Zealand Birds. Reader’s Digest: Sydney.

[S66] Schlegel, H. 1866. Communication from, on mammals and birds collected in Madagascar. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1866: 419-426.

[WS48] Whittell, H. M. & D. L. Serventy. 1948. A systematic list of the birds of Western Australia. Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery of Western Australia, Special Publication 1: 1-126.

[WH02] Worthy, T. H., & R. N. Holdaway. 2002. The Lost World of the Moa: Prehistoric life of New Zealand. Indiana University Press: Bloomington (Indiana).

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