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Galapagos Birdlife

Penguins, Frigates, Boobies and other Galapagos birds

One of the main draws for visitors to the Galapagos Islands is the variety and volume of plant and animal life, many of which are unique and found nowhere else in the world. And though you can expect to see a wealth of different species during your visit, both on land and in the waters surrounding the islands, it is in the skies that some of the most varied and plentiful residents can be found.

A total of around 140 birds species have been registered in the Galapagos. Of those 58 are residential, 76 migratory and six have been introduced, making the archipelago a heaven for bird enthusiasts and anyone who enjoys the wonder of nature. In fact, the majority of the animals that you’ll see during your visit to the islands will probably be Galapagos birds, so getting a good appreciation of the diversity on offer is an important part of understanding life in the archipelago. Although around 50% of the resident species are endemic to the islands, many of the Galapagos birds are currently under threat due to factors associated with human activity.

Of all of the local Galapagos birds the blue-footed boobies, with their brightly colored appendages, are some of the most instantly recognizable. Large populations of the birds can be found on North Seymour IslandSan Cristobal, and Española Island.

In general, the Galapagos birds can be divided into three groups; seabirds, coastal birds, and land birds, and apart from the blue-footed boobies, the islands are also home to flightless cormorants, penguins, finches and waved albatross. The sheer number, as well as the almost tame appearance of the birds, is a sight to behold, and a true ‘must see’ for any nature lovers and the keen ornithologist out there.

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Galapagos birdlife can be classified into 3 main categories:

Sea Birds

Listing and habits of the seabirds that inhabit the enchanted isles

The cool, oxygen-rich waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands support an abundant marine flora and fauna which, in turns, support a variety of seabirds. The most obvious and frequently seen seabirds are members of the order Pelecaniformes. In The Galapagos, these include two species of the frigate bird, three species of booby, the brown pelican, the red-billed tropicbird and the Flightless Cormorant.

No marine region would be complete without seagulls (order Charadriiformes) and the Galapagos are no exception. However, there are only two species of gulls, the swallow-tail gull, and the lava gull, and both are endemic to the archipelago. Another bird belonging to this order that is commonly seen is the brown noddy tern.

The third order of seabirds found in the Galapagos is the Procellariiformes. This order includes the ubiquitous, but difficult to observe, Audubon shearwater and a variety of storm petrels. It also includes the magnificent waved albatross, which, with its 7-8 foot wingspan is the largest bird in the Galapagos.

The final major order of seabird represented in the Galapagos, remarkably, is the Sphenisciphromes, the penguins! The sole penguin found on the equator is the endemic Galapagos penguin.

Coastal Birdlife

Listing and habits of the coastal birds that inhabit the Enchanted Islands

The coast of the Galapagos serves as home to a diverse group of shorebirds, waders, waterfowl and lagoon birds. These birds are capable of long-distance flights and are often migratory, they do not feed out at sea. Instead, they find food between the tides, in coastal lagoons, and in ponds near to the highland areas of certain Islands.

Land Birds

Listing and habits of the land birds that inhabit the Enchanted Islands

Few species of land birds inhabit the Galapagos Islands, and Galapagos Yellow Birdthree-quarters of these are endemic or occurring Only In The Archipelago. Unlike the Seabirds, most of which are excellent long-distance fliers, land birds from the tropics have little cause to make long flights. Though relatives of all the Galápagos species may be found on the nearby mainland, only a freak of fate would bring them out a thousand kilometers from land. This must have happened, however, at least fourteen times in the past.

With few exceptions, the land birds are a singularly dull-colored lot. As if to make up for this lack of exciting color, their “tameness” is unsurpassed. With attitudes to humans that seem to range from indifference, through curiosity and fearlessness, to outright impudence, the Galapagos land birds are a pleasure to watch and study.

Because Galapagos visitors spend so much time on and around the water, the sea and shore birds typically Galapagos Islands Bird receive more attention than the land birds. The seabirds tend to be bigger, more obvious, can be observed more easily, and display lots of different types of behaviors. Land birds, on the other hand, are smaller, drabber, and more secretive. It takes more effort, more patience, and more understanding to observe them. Some birds, like the cuckoo and the rail, have small populations and tend to be cryptic in their habits. There are 29 recognized species of land birds living in the Galapagos Islands and Darwin came close to seeing them all. Of course, he didn’t visit all of the islands and didn’t see everything. Darwin succinctly cataloged the resident land birds in the “Voyage of the Beagle”:

Of land-birds I obtained twenty-six kinds, all peculiar to the group and found nowhere else, with the exception of one lark-like finch from North America (Dolichonyx oryzivorous*), which ranges on that continent as far north as 54 degrees and generally frequents marshes. The other twenty-five birds consist, firstly, of a hawk, curiously intermediate in structure between a Buzzard and the American group of carrion-feeding Polybori; and with this latter, it agrees most closely in every habit and even tone of voice. Secondly, there are two owls, representing the short-eared and barn owls of Europe. Thirdly, a wren, three tyrant-flycatchers (two of them species of Pyrocephalus, one or both of which would be ranked by some ornithologists as only varieties), and a dove — all analogous to but distinct from, American species. fourthly, a swallow, which though differing from the Progene purpurea of both Americas, only in being rather duller colored, smaller, and slenderer, is considered by Mr. Gould as specifically distinct. Fifthly, there are three species of mocking-thrush — a form highly characteristic of America. The remaining land-birds form a most singular group of finches, related to each other in the structure of their beaks, short tails, the form of the body, and plumage. There are thirteen species, which Mr. Gould has divided into four sub-groups. All these species are peculiar to this archipelago.…”

Charles Darwin, 1845

Resident Species
  • Dark-billed Cuckoo
  • Barn Owl
  • Short-eared Owl*
  • Vermillion Flycatcher*
  • Yellow Warbler*
  • Paint-billed Crake
  • Smooth-billed Ani
Endemic Species
  • Galapagos Dove
  • Large-billed Flycatcher
  • Galapagos Hawk
  • Mockingbirds:
  • Galapagos Mockingbird
  • Hood Mockingbird
  • Chatham Mockingbird
  • Charles Mockingbird
  • Galapagos Rail
  • Galapogos Martin
  • Darwin’s Finches:
  • Small Ground Finch
  • Medium Ground Finch
  • Large Ground Finch
  • Cactus Ground Finch
  • Large Cactus Ground Finch
  • Sharp-beaked Ground Finch
  • Vegetarian Finch
  • Small Tree Finch
  • Medium Tree Finch
  • Large Tree Finch
  • Woodpecker Finch
  • Mangrove Finch
  • Warbler Finch

Frequently asked questions

Which Galapagos islands have penguins?

The Galapagos penguin, Spheniscus mendiculus, is the only species of penguin that lives in the Northern Hemisphere. They can be seen on several Galapagos islands. Isabela Island is home to the most penguins. They are often seen on its coasts or near Fernandina Island. Bartolome Island, which has rocky beaches and nearby waters is another place to see these adorable birds. Galapagos Penguins can survive in warm, tropical water in the Galapagos Islands. This makes them different from other cold-water species.

What is the largest bird in the Galapagos?

Waved Albatross is the largest bird on the Galapagos. The Waved Albatross is known for its impressive wingspan. It's one of the biggest bird species. Waved Albatross wingspan can be as large as 2.4m (almost 8ft).

The Galapagos Islands are home to the Waved Albatross, which breeds and nests on Espanola. The birds are adapted to long-distance oceanic flights and they spend most of their life at sea. They only return to the land when breeding or raising chicks. These birds perform elaborate courtship dances, which include a "waving", unique display, during the breeding season.

The waved Albatross, not only is the largest bird on the Galapagos Islands but it's also one of the most significant and iconic species due to their impressive size and distinctive behaviors.

What is the Galapagos bird with the red chest?

The most famous red chested bird in Galapagos is the magnificent frigate bird. The male inflates its red pouch to attract females during the mating season. Some of the best spots to find it are North Seymour island, Lobos island and Tijeretas hill on San Cristobal island.

The vermilion flycatcher is also a Galapagos species with a bright red chest. The male version of this striking bird has a vibrantly red chest and throat plumage, while the females have a more subdued coloration. Vermilion flycatchers can be found throughout the Galapagos Islands. They are usually seen perched on trees or in flight to catch flying insects. They are easily identifiable by their distinctive color.

Can Galapagos finches interbreed?

Galapagos Finches (also known as Darwin’s finches) do not usually interbreed due to their differences in beak shape, behavior, geographic isolation, ecological niches, and habitat. This has led to the diversification of their species. Interbreeding is rare, but it can occur when species are closely related. It usually results in hybrids that have a lower survival rate and less reproductive success. Evolutionary pressures have led to unique adaptations in each finch species. This has helped maintain the distinct ecological role and characteristics of these species.

Does the frigate bird only live in the Galapagos islands?

The frigatebird is not restricted to the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Islands are known to host several frigatebird species, such as the Magnificent Frigatebird and Great Frigatebird. However, these birds are found all over the tropical and subtropical world.

The male frigatebirds display a red pouch on their throat during mating displays. They are also known for having long, forked wings and forked tails. The birds are expert aerial predators, and they feed on small fishes and marine creatures using their strong beaks and long wings.

The frigatebird can also be found along the coastlines of Central America and South America and other oceanic areas with suitable habitats and food resources. Their range is not limited to the Galapagos Islands, as they are known to travel long distances for food.

What are the best places to see birds in Galapagos?

Some of the best places to see birds in the Galapagos Islands include Genovesa Island, known as "Bird Island," for its Red-footed and Nazca Boobies; Espanola Island, home to the world's largest Waved Albatross population and various other seabirds; Santa Fe Island, with its endemic Santa Fe Land Iguana and unique mockingbird; Floreana Island's Punta Cormorant, where Greater Flamingos and shorebirds abound; Santiago Island for Galapagos Fur Seals and shorebirds; Bartolome Island, where Galapagos Penguins and other seabirds can be found; North Seymour Island, famous for its Blue-footed Boobies and Frigatebirds; Isabela Island, offering diverse birdwatching, including Flightless Cormorants and Galapagos Penguins; San Cristobal Island, home to various mockingbird species and La Galapaguera for tortoises; and Santa Cruz Island, which serves as a hub for exploring with opportunities to see Darwin's finches and Vermilion Flycatchers, among others, in the highlands.

What birds did Darwin study on the Galapagos Islands?

Charles Darwin studied the Galapagos Islands, focusing primarily on the finch species that lived there. These finches are known by the name Darwin's Finches. Darwin's theory on evolution through natural selection was shaped by these birds with their unique beak sizes and shapes that were tailored for the specific islands they lived in. Darwin deduced that these finches shared a common origin but evolved to take advantage of different ecological niches in the islands by observing their adaptation to each environment. Darwin's profound insight was the basis for his pioneering work about the origins of species. It revolutionized our understanding of the evolution of life on Earth.

The species of finches he observed include:

  1. The Large Ground Finch (Geospiza magnirostris)
  2. The Medium Ground Finch (Geospiza fortis)
  3. The Small Ground Finch (Geospiza fuliginosa)
  4. The Common Cactus Finch (Geospiza scandens)
  5. The Large Cactus Finch (Geospiza conirostris)
  6. The Small Tree Finch (Camarhynchus parvulus)
  7. The Medium Tree Finch (Camarhynchus pauper)
  8. The Large Tree Finch (Camarhynchus psittacula)
  9. The Vegetarian Finch (Platyspiza crassirostris)
  10. The Warbler Finch (Certhidea olivacea)
  11. The Woodpecker Finch (Camarhynchus pallidus)

What is the most common bird in the Galapagos Islands?

Most likely, the most prevalent bird in the Galapagos Islands will be the Galapagos Mockingbird. The Galapagos Islands are home to several different species of mockingbirds. They can be seen on all the islands. They are more approachable and visible than other species of birds in the Galapagos because they adapt well to humans and their presence. Galapagos mockingbirds are characterized by their long tails and thin bills. They also have a curious nature, approaching people in search of water or food. They aren't as well-known as Darwin's Finches but they're still an important part of Galapagos unique and diverse bird population.

What bird is the Galapagos most endangered?

The Mangrove Finch is one of the Galapagos Islands' most endangered species. The species is in danger of going extinct. Mangrove Finches is one of 15 Darwin's Finches species found on the Galapagos. They are well known for having a small population and a very restricted area.

Mangrove Finch can be found mainly on Isabela Island, Galapagos. It is well adapted to the mangrove forest habitat. Their survival is threatened by habitat degradation and loss due to invasive species such as parasitic flies like Philornis downsi. To save the finch from extinction conservation efforts are underway, such as captive breeding programs and habitat restoration projects.

When did the Galapagos penguin become endangered?

For a long time, the Galapagos Penguin is considered endangered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, listed it as endangered in 1988. Galapagos Penguins have seen a dramatic decline in population due to a variety of threats. El Nino, for example, has caused ocean water temperatures to rise and decreased the food available for penguins. Human activities such as habitat destruction and overfishing have contributed to the decrease of this species.

Galapagos Penguins and their habitat are being protected by conservation efforts, which include the creation of marine protection areas and monitoring programs. These efforts may have stabilized the population in some ways, but the Galapagos Penguin is still classified as an endangered species.

How To See Galapagos Birds?

If you want to see Galapagos bird species, hire a naturalist guide certified by the Galapagos National Park who will help identify and spot them. Choose the best time to visit different islands and explore their unique species and ecosystems. Remember to bring binoculars, and a camera and to respect the wildlife by keeping a safe distance. Birdwatching requires patience. Joining guided tours and learning more about birds can improve your experience. The Galapagos Islands are a great place to see avian life in its natural environment. However, it is important to be responsible and protect this beautiful ecosystem.

What Galapagos bird can not fly?

It is a species of bird found on the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Cormorant, Phalacrocorax harrisi, has lost its ability to fly. This is one of only a few cormorants that are flightless in the entire world. This species' loss of flight is an evolutionary phenomenon known as "flightlessness," and can happen on islands with fewer predators or less competition.

It has become a skilled swimmer rather than a flyer. The cormorant uses its wings to propel through the water as it hunts for fish or other marine prey. Using this adaptation, it can exploit the abundance of marine resources in the Galapagos Islands. It has reduced the size of its wings and muscle mass, which makes it unable to sustain flight.

Flightless cormorants are an interesting and unique example of species adapting to niches and environments that they find themselves in, even though it may mean losing some of the capabilities common among their family.