Weird creatures on Galapagos: The Vampire Finch
Vampires occupy a strange place in the human imagination. These mystical and, lets be honest, fictional, creatures have a strange allure. That’s why we never seem to tire of films, books and TV series about the blood sucking parasites. And yet, as is often the case, the truth is stranger than fiction. Vampires may be mythical but there exists enough in nature to clearly show why we find them so scary.
The Galapagos Islands are as unforgiving as they are beautiful. Wolf Island is one of the smaller islands and consists largely of barren rock. But this small outcrop is actually ruled by vampires. Not the fanged and caped beasts of the movies, but small birds that have acquired the name, Vampire Finches.
Looking at them, it’s hard to see how the comparison can be made but when you learn a little about their behavior it starts to become clear. These little terrors, which you will see in abundance on Galapagos cruises, have learned how to nip the tail feathers of other birds until they draw blood. Then, and here comes the gruesome part, they drink it.
Animal experts were initially skeptical about such behavior but it can be and has been clearly observed. They tend to target larger birds, such as the native booby. They pester chicks in the nest, pulling out tail feathers around the oily glands and then drink the blood that is drawn there. Their tiny sharp beaks (or should that be fangs?) seem to have evolved specifically for the task.
What is even more frightening is that they tend to work in packs, with groups of them targeting vulnerable birds. Life on the Galapagos is hard enough for the boobies without having this additional menace to avoid.
The birds work in huge numbers so as to avoid danger and have even learned to hone their skills so that their plucking technique is sometimes not even felt by the larger birds. They outnumber every other finch species you’ll spot on Galapagos cruises put together, so resistance is futile. What would Alfred Hitchcock have made of this, we wonder?
The Vampire Finches have also been seen picking ticks off iguanas on Galapagos cruises, so it may be that this behavior was initially some form of reciprocal cleaning ritual until the birds worked out there was a bigger bounty to be had in the blood. And it turns out that not even eggs are safe, as the finches have been seen rolling eggs out of nests until they break on the rocks, before drinking the yolks.
So if you’re going on a Galapagos cruise on board a yacht like the Galapagos Sea Star Journey, watch out for the Vampire Finch and try not to have nightmares.