In part one of this article, we looked at Galapagos Finches, three species of boobies (blue-footed, red-footed and masked), and the giant waved albatross. Here are some of our other favorite birds that are more than worth seeing up close and personal in the Galapagos Islands.
Frigatebirds — Pirates of the Galapagos
The pirates of the Galapagos are the enormous frigatebirds, of which there are two species, the greater and the magnificent frigatebird. From above, these pterodactyl-shaped creatures look like something straight out of prehistoric times. During courtship on land, the males inflate bright-red flaps of skin around their necks until they look like giant balloons. This colorful behavior is amusing to humans on the ground and great for taking photos.
Other Galapagos seabirds, however, don’t particularly care for frigatebirds’ airborne antics, as frigatebirds literally steal fish from other birds in the air by aggravating them from above. Don’t think of this as a character flaw, however. It is simply a matter of evolutionary design. Frigate birds evolved in a way that prevents them from fishing underwater. As a result, though, they are expert pilots and indeed seem to be able to drift with the wind from high above.
The only endemic raptor (predatory bird) that lives in the Galapagos is the hawk. Dark brown in color, they can be seen high over several of the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos hawk plays an important part of the island ecosystem as a top predator. Breeding mates often include a large female and more than one male, each of whom assists in rearing the young. Historically, the Galapagos hawk was hunted and their numbers were significantly reduced. Today, their population has stabilized and is bouncing back.
What? Penguins on the Equator? Aren’t they snow and ice birds you only find in Antarctica?
You might be surprised to learn that the flightless Galapagos penguin is endemic to these islands and is the most northerly of any penguin species in the world, depending on the Cromwell Current for the region’s cold nutrient-rich surface water.
These Galapagos penguins are also seriously threatened, as their populations fluctuate heavily under the influence of El Niño, which in turn is being heavily influenced by climate change. This special species of penguin breeds on Isabela, Fernandina and Bartholomew islands, primarily in caves or crevices of old lava flows and burrows.
So if you happen to see a tuxedo swimming by you at lightning speed just under the water’s surface, you can bet that it’s a Galapagos penguin. Underwater, they’re as swift and graceful as any fish; on land, they’re rigid and awkward, but are often not nearly as curious or readily visible as other Galapagos Islands wildlife.
One of the most colorful birds in the enchanted Galapagos Islands, the bright pink greater flamingo, is only found in shallow, salty lagoons on a few of the islands. And unlike most other wildlife throughout the islands, which have little to no fear of humans, flamingos are very shy and will not allow you to get too close to them. So if you want to see them up close as they sift through the bottom sediment of brackish waters to feed on shrimp and other crustaceans, as well as small water plants, be sure to have a handy pair of binoculars or camera with a good zoom lens.
Other Winged Creatures
Call me a California kid, but one of my favorite Galapagos birds (and the easiest to identify) is the brown pelican. Maybe it’s the way they float just above the surface of the water, surfing the airwaves above the ocean waves. And you won’t have to go far to spot these giant fish eaters, as they like to roost on the bows of yachts and can out-stare even the most patient observer.
Herons and egrets, such as the great blue heron, snow-white cattle egret, lava heron, and yellow-crowned night heron, also call the Galapagos Islands home. Common shorebirds include American oyster-catchers, plovers, gulls, terns, and sandpipers. A bit more inland are owls, pigeons, flycatchers, mockingbirds, warblers, and tanagers, among others.
Visit Natural Habitat Adventures to experience the best of the Galapagos Islands on classic wildlife trips, photo adventures, active holidays and or family escapes.