Birdwatchers’ Paradise: Top 10 Birds to Spot in the Galapagos Islands

A visit to the Galapagos Islands will ensure you come across sights that very few get a chance to see. Take the birds, for example – the islands are home to the only penguins found north of the equator and the only cormorants that have lost the ability to fly. In fact, 80 percent of the bird species found here are endemic to the archipelago. 

 

The Galapagos Islands are truly a world of their own, harboring ecosystems which can’t be found anywhere else in the world. For the avid birdwatcher, here are some of the most remarkable species to keep an eye out for as you sail the Galapagos Islands with us, aboard Aqua Mare.

 

1) Blue-footed Booby

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Aptly named after their brightly colored webbed feet, blue-footed boobies are most commonly found on Seymour Island. Their name is derived from the Spanish word ‘bobo’, meaning foolish or clown-like. This serves as a reference to their clumsy movements while walking on land.

 

blue footed booby galapagos

Being seabirds, blue-footed boobies spend their days scouting the ocean waters for food. They are exceptionally good at diving and can hunt prey at depths up to 25 meters. The birds have streamlined bodies which allows them to plunge into the water from great heights. Can you imagine encountering them in action while you’re out snorkeling? That would certainly be a moment to remember.

The best time to spot blue-footed boobies is during their mating season, which is generally between June and August. This is when they spend more of their time on land and engage in elaborate courtship rituals. Those sailing on Aqua Mare’s West Galapagos itinerary will have the opportunity to spot these birds while hiking on Daphne Island.

 

2) Galapagos Penguin

IUCN Status: Endangered

It’s believed that storms and ocean currents carried over the first Galapagos penguins from Southern Chile to the islands. Despite being left stranded, they were able to survive and grow their population. Over time, they have adapted to their surroundings as well. 

 

galapagos penguin

 

Today, Galapagos penguins are the only species of penguins which can be found in the northern hemisphere. To survive in the warm climate, they have evolved in a number of ways. They have far less body fat and feathers than their cold-weather counterparts. Additionally, they have bare patches of skin around their eyes and by the base of their bills. This helps them lose body heat and stay cool throughout the summer.

 

Guests aboard the Aqua Mare will have the opportunity to spot Galapagos penguins on a variety of occasions. Those traveling through our Western Galapagos itinerary might see them during their visit to the volcanic Sombrero Chino Island. They’ll also be able to get up close while snorkeling during their visit to Bartolome Island. On the other hand, those guests traveling in the East will get to visit Fernandina Island, which boasts the largest colony of penguins inhabiting the archipelago. Find out more about Galapagos penguins here.

 

3) Magnificent Frigatebird

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The largest of the frigatebirds, this remarkable species is endemic to the Galapagos archipelago. Magnificent frigatebirds are renowned for their bizarre courting ritual wherein the males inflate their bright red chests, almost like a balloon. They proceed to drum on their chest with their bills in order to attract females. 

 

magnificent frigatebird

 

Unlike most other bird species in the Galapagos Islands, magnificent frigatebirds can’t land on water or hunt for food in the ocean. In order to survive, they’re forced to steal food from other birds. They’re often seen chasing after blue-footed boobies and shaking them by the tail until they throw up. 

 

Due to their lack of hunting skills, magnificent frigatebirds have evolved to require very little amounts of food. Their bones are extremely light, and they barely need to move their wings when flying high. In fact, magnificent frigate birds can remain in the sky for weeks at a time, while hanging onto the wind currents. 

 

4) Flightless Cormorant

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

Owing to centuries of evolution and natural selection, flightless cormorants have lost the ability to fly.  Being an endemic species in the Galapagos Islands, they’ve never faced much threat from land predators. This removed the need for them to have functional wings. 

 

flightless cormorant galapagos

 

However, due to the scarcity of food in the archipelago, it was important that the cormorants knew how to swim. Surviving mostly on eels and octopus, those which were more adept at swimming were likely to live longer and contribute to the genepool. 

 

Today, there are around a 1000 breeding pairs of flightless cormorants, which can mostly be found on the islands of Isabela and Fernandina. They make their nests on land, using materials – such as seaweed – that can be found in the ocean. These birds can be spotted all-year-round, however, to witness their courting rituals, a visit between May and October is recommended.

 

While sailing on Aqua Mare’s West Galapagos itineraries, guests will visit Punta Espinoza which is home to a large population of flightless cormorants.

 

5) Darwin’s Finches

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

Named after biologist Charles Darwin – whose famous theory of evolution was founded on his research studies in the Galapagos Islands – Darwin’s finches refer to 14 species of small land birds, 13 of which are endemic to the archipelago. 

 

darwins finches galapagos

 

Although they’re generally similar in shape and size, different species of Darwin’s finches have distinguishable characteristics such as their habitat and diet. 

 

For example, common cactus finches and green warbler finches are among the most prevalent and can be found on most of the islands in the Galapagos archipelago. The mangrove finch – which is now critically endangered – can only be spotted near Isabela island. 

 

The finches are said to have evolved into different species over time, as they developed characteristics to help them survive better on the different islands. Observing these differences allowed Darwin to conceptualize his theory of evolution. 

 

6) Galapagos Hawk

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

There was a time when Galapagos Hawks were found on all 18 of the main islands which make up the Galapagos archipelago. Unfortunately, their population has since dwindled – due to the introduction of invasive plants and the alterations to their habitat – and they’ve gone extinct on five of the islands. 

 

galapagos hawk

 

Galapagos hawks are apex predators and face no threats from other animals. As a result, they’ve also grown to be unafraid of humans. In particular, the young ones tend to be curious and are even known to approach visitors.

Depending on availability, Galapagos hawks are known to derive nutrition from a variety of sources. They use their sharp talons to grab hold of prey including lizards, iguanas, baby tortoises, and even other land and sea birds. The hawks may also eat eggs or scavenge on dead animals. 

 

While hiking on Santa Fe Island, those traveling on Aqua Mare’s East Galapagos Itinerary will be able to spot Galapagos Hawks soaring through the sky.

 

7) Little Vermilion Flycatcher

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

Little vermilion flycatchers are one of the only brightly colored land birds found in the Galapagos islands. The males have a striking red plumage, with black feathers on their wings and around their eyes. The females display more consistency with other land birds of the region, with their grayish color and peach-colored breast.

 

little vermilion flycatcher galapagos

 

Most often spotted on the uninhabited islands of Fernandina, Isabela, and Rabida, little vermilion flycatchers have been declining in population due to the loss of forest habitat. They also face a threat from non-native birds – such as the smooth-billed ani – which have similar feeding habits. 

 

Due to their size, little vermilion flycatchers tend to be elusive. The best chance to spot them is during their breeding season which lasts from December to May. There is an abundance of insects during this time, and the birds can be seen flying about in search of food.

 

8) Galapagos Petrel

IUCN Status: Critically Endangered

One of six endemic sea birds found in the archipelago, Galapagos Petrels spend most of their time out by the ocean, feeding on squid, fish, and crustaceans. They only return to land during their breeding season in late April, primarily sticking to the highlands where weather conditions remain humid.

 

galapagos petrel

 

Galapagos Petrels mate for life and use the same nesting time each time they return for breeding season. They can usually be found nesting in burrows or in the natural cavities found in hill slopes. Both parents take turns taking care of the young ones, which hatch after two months of incubation.

 

It can be tough spotting a Galapagos petrel, however, those sailing on Aqua Mare between April and October might be able to find them while hiking through the lava fields of Genovesa Island. 

 

9) American Flamingo 

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Although American flamingos are found across the Caribbean as well, their population in the Galapagos Islands displays a number of genetic differences. Most notably, they’re smaller in size and have a different body shape.

 

american flamingo galapagos

 

American flamingos can mostly be found in brackish lagoons. While traveling on Aqua Mare, guests will be able to spot them on a hiking trail in Dragon Hill, which begins with a wet landing and continues inland through mangroves and sand dunes to a flamingo lagoon.

 

The flamingos feed on algae, crustaceans, and microscopic plant materials. These contain carotenoid pigments which contributes to their remarkable pink coloration. Along with feeding, American flamingos also perform their courtship ritual in shallow water. This comprises a synchronized dance, following which mating pairs nest, and the female lays a single egg.  

 

10) Galapagos lava gull

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

Thought to be the rarest species of gulls in the world, Galapagos lava gulls are endemic to the archipelago. They are estimated to have a total population between 300 and 600 and can primarily be found on the islands of Santa Cruz, Genovesa, San Cristobal, and Isabela.

 

galapagos lava gull

 

Galapagos lava gulls have dark gray wings and brown or black feathers on their head. They can be distinguished by a white line which runs across the edge of their wings. 

 

Unlike other species of gulls, Galapagos lava gulls are solitary nesters. They tend to make nests at least a hundred meters apart from one another, usually under the shelter of coastal vegetation. The gulls are omnivorous and often steal food from fishermen or other birds’ nests. 

 

Interested to discover the Galapagos Islands’ wildlife with our experienced naturalist guides? Join us on board our luxury superyacht, Aqua Mare.