Avian Diversity of Galapagos


The evolutionary isolation of the
1 '6alapagos Islands has produced
a rich diversity of unusual avifauna,
many species being found nowhere
else in the world.
Fifteen major islands comprise the
archipelago which is located approximately
600 miles west of the Ecuadorian
coastline in the Pacific Ocean on
and around the equator. I was able to
visit 12 of these on my two week sailing
and hiking exploration of the
islands, observing at close hand many
of the birds I am about to list and

Endemic or unique birds to the
Galapagos Islands include 13 species
of the famed Darwin's Finches, four
species of mockingbirds, two species
of gull, the Galapagos Hawk, flightless
cormorant, Galapagos Penguin, and a 

single endemic species each of dove ,
flycatcher, ma1tin, heron and rail. The
Galapagos Waved Albatross is almost
considered endemic with the exception
of two or three pairs which breed
on small islands off Ecuador's coast.
The islands a re probably best
known for the three resident booby
species; howeve r, other interesting
bird species also reside in Galapagos
including two species of owls, two
species of frigatebirds, flamingos, Vermillion
Flycatchers, Red-billed Tropicbirds,
Brown Pelicans and American
Oystercatchers to name just a few.
Natural behavior observations and
close-up viewing of the birds on Galapagos
is an easy matter as animals of
these re lative ly young islands have
not developed a fear of humans. It is
an amazing thing to simp ly walk
through a b reeding colony of birds,
many of w hich a re on eggs or w ith
chicks, and cause no reaction whatsoever.
The most s pectacular bird seen on
my trip was the Waved Albatross Diomedea
irrorata . The entire colony of 

12,000 pairs, with the exception of the
several pairs mentioned in my introduction,
nest exclusively on Hood
Island, Galapagos. This magnificent
bird, with its bright yellow beak,
cream colored head and brown body
fe a thers , is known for its unique
courtship display involving clicking,
freezing, head bobbing and beak
crossing. This ritual is repeated each
year at the onset of breeding season to
reaffirm each pair's lifelong bond
before mating takes place. Nesting

occurs from May to December after
which the young are fledged and the
whole colony leaves Hood Island to
spend the rest of the year out at sea.
I was in the Galapagos during
December 1993 and January 1994 so I
was able to see the adult Waved Albatross
with almost fully fledged chicks.
They were all huge, impressive birds
having wingspans of up to 10 feet and
body weights approaching 11 pounds.
My adventure also allowed for a
special hike and two nights camping
on the rim of Isabella Island's Alcedo
Volcano. This is one of the best places
to see the Galapagos Hawk Buteo
Adult birds are solid brown with
yellow cere, talons and legs while the
juveniles have cream colored breasts
with a brown mottled pattern. The
female birds tend to be larger and they
take on more than one mate at a time.
All parents then help in the raising of
the young.
Immature hawks were seen up to
one dozen at a time along Alcedo Volcano's
rim. They would swoop down
inches above my head, occasionally
landing on a nearby rock or shrub.
Another fascinating encounter I had

with a Galapagos Hawk happened on
Rabida Island which is known for its
red sand beach. It was along this
shoreline that several brown pelican
nests were spotted in some shrubs,
one with three abandoned eggs. As I
approached a second nest, I saw a
hawk perched atop it with its kill, a
down-covered pelican chick. These
hawks feed on everything from small
lava lizards to young goats if they can
get them.
This intriguing raptor has been eliminated
from many of the islands by
direct human predation in the past.
Although now protected, this species'
total population has been reduced to
about 100 pairs. They have no natural
enemies, which would explain their
curious and fearless natures.