Bird Wrasse (Bird Fish): Fish Species Profile

Characteristics, Origin, and Helpful Information

Bird Wrasse Fish
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The bird wrasse is a very beautiful and interesting fish. The bird wrasse is a great fish for a beginner, as long as it is provided with a large enough tank. In the wild, the male bird wrasse spends its time during the day hunting for food along the reef and in sand channels. At night, it will find a secure crevice in the rocks and hide until it turns light again. In an aquarium, this fish is constantly on the move. Give it plenty of room and make sure that there are no gaps in the aquarium cover as this bird might try to "fly out" if given the opportunity. They are very hardy and disease resistant. 

Breed Overview

Common Names: Bird fish, green bird wrasse, black or brown bird wrasse, birdnose wrasse, Indian Ocean bird wrasse

Scientific Name: Gomphosus varius

Adult Size: 11 inches

Life Expectancy: Unknown


Family Labridae
Origin West-Indo Pacific region
Social Semi-aggressive
Tank Level All areas, gravitates to bottom a lot
Minimum Tank Size 125 gallon
Diet Carnivore
Breeding Does not occur in captivity
Care Moderate
pH 8.1 - 8.4
Hardness 8 to 12 dGH
Temperature 72 to 78 F

Origin and Distribution

This species is found in the Indo-Pacific oceans from India to Japan to Hawaii. It is often confused with another bird wrasse species, the green birdmouth wrasse or Red ​Sea bird wrasse, G. caeruleus, which is more predominant in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. 

Bird wrasses inhabit dense coral areas of lagoons and seaward reefs at depths of 6 to 98 feet. They use their bird beak-like snouts to feed on small bottom-dwelling crustaceans found between coral branches, rock, and sand, as well as small fish, brittle stars, and mollusks. Although their mouths are small, they will grab their prey and then dash it on the substrate, breaking it up into bite-size pieces.

Colors and Markings

Named for their distinctive bird-like beaked snouts, and sexed by their display of colors, bird wrasses are easy to identify. As juveniles, each species has their own unique transitional juvenile to adult colors and markings. G. varius males are typically medium to dark green or greenish-blue in color. Females are creamy white colored in front and dark brown to nearly black in back. You can tell them apart from G. caeruleus, since those males are much bluer in color. Females from front to back are white to yellow on the bottom and greenish-blue on top. Both female species have bottom half white and top half peachy colored snouts.


Bird wrasses are a semi-aggressive fish that have a tendency to eat smaller fish and almost any crustacean, shrimp, crab, snail, or clam. Bird wrasse can easily outcompete slower-moving species (and even some pretty fast-moving ones) at mealtimes. Some will steal food out of the mouths of other tankmates. Do not mix with other elongated fish. This fish can grab that fish in its beak-like mouth and do serious harm.

This fish is considered a great addition to a predatory reef tank. The bird wrasse is semi-aggressive toward its food but basically passive toward fish that they do not view as lunch.

Only one bird wrasse male should be kept in an aquarium. A male-female pair should be added to the aquarium at the same time, introducing the female first.

Bird Wrasse Habitat and Care

Because of its size and constant roaming nature, the minimum aquarium size suggested for this fish is at least 125 gallons.

At times, large males can be very shy and will not come out to eat for a few days. Make sure you provide hiding places in the form of rockwork and plants. Rockwork or live rock with plenty of hiding places is important, especially when first introduced. This fish will need well-oxygenated water that is brisk and aerated due to their high energy.

They typically sleep under rock shelves, under corals, on the sand surface, or in a crevice. Generally, they do not bury themselves like other wrasses but may hide in the sand if frightened. Having 3 or 4 inches of sand can be a good idea just in case they decide they need to burrow.

The bird wrasse is considered easy to care for. It is better to choose smaller individuals that will adapt better to captivity. When choosing your bird wrasse, keep in mind they are very smart and will have done everything they can to escape capture in the wild. Damaged fins or missing scales are easily healed, but a specimen with damage to the mouth or eyes can easily die from those injuries within a short period of time, so, avoid those specimens.

Bird Wrasse Diet

Although this fish's bird-like beak mouth is small, it is adept at grasping prey in its strong jaws. Once captured, it bashes the prey item against the substrate until it breaks into bite-sized pieces.

A bird wrasse will eat nasty fire and other nuisance bristle worms, but beneficial and decorative type worms, small crustaceans, snails and such as well. Feed a hardy diet of vitamin-enriched frozen brine and mysid shrimp preparations, small bits of fresh or frozen meaty seafood, and frozen silversides. It is recommended to feed this fish three times a day.

Sexual Differences

In the wild, a single male congregates with a large harem of females. Nature's way of propagating the species is that a single female will change into a male, separate from the group, and once fully transformed, starts a harem of its own. For a period of time during this female-to-male transformation, the fish possesses colors of both sexes but eventually turns into an all green adult male.

Breeding of the Bird Wrasse 

The breeding of the bird wrasse is generally unknown in captivity. It is suggested that a large tank, such as a 300-gallon-plus tank may be needed for these fish to feel comfortable enough to spawn in captivity. 

More Pet Fish Breeds and Further Research

If bird wrasses appeal to you, and you are interested in some compatible fish for your aquarium, read up on:

Check out additional fish breed profiles for more information on other saltwater fish.