Birds and Birding in the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands pack a serious punch when it comes to fascinating and unique bird species. This tiny collection of islands boasts 56 native bird species, with 45 of these are endemic, found only in the Galapagos. Sea birds, land birds, and shore birds, including migratory birds, are a huge reason for the importance of this location in the world of biodiversity, evolution, and conservation.
Whether you're a devoted birder or a complete novice, learning a bit about the birds of the Galapagos Islands will enrich any traveler's Galapagos experience. Here are just a few of our favorite Galapagos Islands birds.
The Galapagos Islands are the closest point to the equator in the world where you'll find penguins living in the wild, by a long shot. The Humboldt Current that runs along the Pacific shores of South America keep the climate cold enough for these Galapagos Penguins, and they're some of the most entertaining on the islands.
Get up close and personal with them on land, or really experience them in their element by snorkeling with them underwater.
The penguin's existence in the Galapagos is delicate, and even the slightest temperature increase can seriously effect their breeding patterns - as evidenced by their significant drop in breeding during the temperature increases caused by El Nino in 1997-1998.
Perhaps the most iconic Galapagos Bird, the blue-footed booby earns its name with bright, colorful feet that go on full display during a most entertaining courtship dance. These birds can be seen in the Galapagos year round, whether on land or diving for food into the sea not far from shore. They reach up to 3 feet in length and have narrow wings, traveling both in small colonies and on their own. You're almost certain to spot a few of these on Hood Island and Seymour Island, there's no mistaking them!.
This majestic Galapagos Bird has a wingspan reaching up to 8 feet! Averaging 2 to 3 feet in length and weighing in at up to 11 pounds, this is the big daddy of Galapagos birds. Although the waved albatross spends the majority of its time out at sea, traveling hundreds of miles in search of food, it returns to Hood Island in the Galapagos once a year (late March to June) in order to reproduce. Visit in October to witness the intricate and lengthy courtship ritual involving 20 minutes of rhythmic bowing, beak clicking, and swaying.
The thirteen Galapagos finches known as Darwin's Finches are not the most exotic of Galapagos birds, but they have tremendous significance with respect to evolution and the theory's historic discovery. Charles Darwin studied the way each specific finch had adapted from a common ancestor to thrive in its given surroundings, focusing in particular on their feeding habits, plumage, and body size.
A terribly endangered Galapagos bird, the Dark-Rumped Petrel lays its eggs in the hills of the Highlands. Their nests are vulnerable to non-native predators such as cats, and much has been done recently by conservation groups to bolster their population. You can find these on any of the larger islands including Isabela, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Floreana. Keep an eye out for a hooked bill and a white tail in the shape of a wedge. Outside of the Galapagos Islands, they are found in Hawaii and nowhere else.
Frigatebirds are also known as "men of war" for their menacing flying habits and impressive hunting prowess. They lack the gland for waterproof wings, and therefore must catch their prey along the surface of the water. Frigatebirds scour the sea surface rather than diving deep, and their tactics are all the more tenacious as a result. They're known to hover nearly still in midair, catch fish mid-jump, and even snatch up squid from time to time. Keep an eye out for the male frigatebirds' puffed up red gular pouch, deployed when looking to attract a female companion.
When traveling to the Islands in the Galapagos, keep these unique Galapagos birds in mind. A familiarity with each, and the theories of how they've evolved to become the way they are, will enhance your understanding of what you're looking at. Now get out there and spot some birds!