South America

The Galapagos Islands a fascinating land of birding endemics

The Galapagos Islands attract thousands of visitors each year, most seeking an adventurous trip and a chance to view the unique and diverse plant and animal species abundant around the islands. Some of these species exist nowhere else in the world.

For bird enthusiasts, a trip to the Galapagos means a once-in-a-lifetime chance to catch glimpses of birds that seemingly exist only in guidebooks and bucket lists. You’ll find 174 unique species here, with 26 of them endemic species found only on the islands.

Keep reading to get acquainted with the fantastic types of birds that you’ll find that just might inspire you to go birding in the Galapagos Islands.

A Little Bit About the Galapagos Islands

Before diving into the birds, let’s start with some background about these intriguing islands. Although most people know them by name, many do not know precisely where to locate them on the map or what else makes this chain of islands so alluring.

Map showing location of Galapagos IslandsOfficially belonging to the Republic of Ecuador, the Galapagos Province is an archipelago of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles off the Ecuadorian coast. The 13 main islands and numerous smaller islands span both sides of the equator. Due to a mix of tropical and temperate climates, the islands possess a unique ecosystem that has thrilled scientists since Charles Darwin first studied it in 1835.

These days, nature lovers of all types visit here to catch a glimpse of an area seemingly untouched by the modern world and filled with endless opportunities to awe at the incredible species that call this place home.

A Place Overflowing with Unique Wildlife

Although for bird-watchers like myself, the best part of visiting the Galapagos is to marvel over the various species of colorful birds that I will likely never get a chance to view again. However, a bonus is that you’ll also have the chance to experience the other unique wildlife that calls the island home.

For example, the Galapagos Tortoise is a giant species known only to the islands. These amazing creatures, with their saddle-shaped shells, can live for over 100 years and are the largest living species of tortoise that you will find in the world.

You will also find a diverse amount of reptiles and incredible marine life. Over 90% of the reptile species on the Galapagos are endemic to the islands, and you’ll see them almost everywhere you turn. These fascinating creatures provide a glimpse into how animals had to adapt to the unique conditions of the ecosystem there.

The islands also provide a chance for a world-class snorkeling experience and the opportunity to see some incredible tropical fish, sharks, and rays.

All of this other wildlife will serve only as a bonus to your bird-watching trip to the Galapagos. For me, the birds that call this ecosystem home are the true “jewels” of the Galapagos.

Endemic Birds You’ll Find Only in the Galapagos

As mentioned, the Galapagos has 26 species of birds that are endemic to the islands, and the entire Galapagos archipelago is designated as an “Endemic Bird Area.” If you spot any of the following types of birds on your trip, know that you will never see them again anywhere else in the world.

Here’s a quick overview of the many noteworthy endemic species of the Galapagos Islands.

The Galapagos Dove is known for its red feet and ring of blue around the eyes. You’ll find them on most of the islands in the drier, more arid zones.

The Galapagos Crake is considered a vulnerable species. It closely resembles the Black Rail of the Americas. This ground-living bird is nearly flightless and lives in the moist grasslands and forests, so you’ll find them on the islands with higher elevations.

Look for the nocturnal Lava Gull (also known as Dusky Gull) on the islands of Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal, and Genovesa. It’s the rarest gull in the world, with less than 600 remaining. You’ll recognize it by its sooty black head, gray body, black legs, and red ring around the eyes.

Galapagos Penguin
Galapagos Penguin

The Galapagos Penguin is the only penguin species that live near the equator. They are meant for arctic conditions but managed to adapt to the tropical climate in the Galapagos. As one of the most famous Galapagos birds, you’ll want to make sure you see one. Try catching one diving underwater while snorkeling.

A fantastic land bird is the Flightless Cormorant. This bird species is thought to have flown initially to the islands from elsewhere. However, it has since adapted and lost its ability to fly. However, they make great divers and plunge deeply into the ocean to catch their food.

The Lava Heron blends in perfectly with the surroundings of the Galapagos Islands, and you’ll often see them on the shorelines or perched on black volcanic rock. You shouldn’t have to look too long to spot one of these on your trip, as they are a widespread species on the islands.

If you look up high, you’ll find the Galapagos Hawk stalking its prey. As one of the only predatory species on the island, you can find them on most of the main islands. Look for them in packs of two or three. They hunt for iguana, tortoises, and other reptiles.

Galapagos hawk
Galapagos hawk

The Large Billed Flycatcher lives on all of the main Galapagos islands. Known locally as the Papamoscas, you’ll probably be able to catch a good photo of this friendly bird. It’s grown used to seeing tourists and flies directly towards camera lenses.

Bird-watchers who love mockingbirds will find four different endemic species on the Galapagos. The Galapagos Mockingbird, Florena Mockingbird, Hood Mockingbird, and San Cristobal Mockingbird all make their home there.

You’ll also find fourteen different varieties of finches on the islands. Make sure you have a guidebook with you so that you can check off when you see the following types:

● Large, Medium, and Small Ground Finch
● Sharp-Beaked Ground Finch
● Common Cactus Finch
● Espanola Cactus Finch
● Vegetarian Finch
● Large, Medium, and Small Tree Finch
● Woodpecker Finch
● Mangrove Finch
● Green Warbler Finch
● Grey Warbler Finch.

Common Cactus Finch
Common Cactus Finch

Other Birds to Look for During Your Trip

While searching for the island’s endemic species, you’ll no doubt also catch glimpses of numerous other incredible birds. With nearly 150 species left to look for, you’ll have no shortage of beautiful birds surrounding you.

Here are a few more popular ones you’ll want to look out for during your visit.

The Blue-Footed Booby is one of the most exciting and fun birds to look for on the Galapagos. These birds have eye-catching bright blue feet, and you will find them dancing around the islands, pleasing tourists with their “clown-like” behavior.

The Waved Albatross is a remarkable bird that can fly high and for long distances without stopping. Its wingspan can reach up to 2 and a half meters, making it the largest bird in the Galapagos. If you catch them during the breeding season, you’ll be able to witness their unique and complex mating dance.

The Short-Eared Owl differs from most other owls in that they hunt during the day (mornings and evenings) rather than at night. You’ll find these cute creatures throughout the archipelago, but the best place to spot them is Genovesa Island. They tend to stay away from places where the Galapagos Hawk hunts.

Also, keep an eye out for the Magnificent Frigate Bird. This bird’s wingspan is almost as large as the Waved Albatross, although its body is much smaller. It can also fly for many miles without stopping. Tourists love to watch these birds for their “aerial acrobatics.” You’ll recognize the male of the species by its red gular pouch that it inflates during mating season to attract the females.

How To Make the Most of Your Galapagos Bird-Watching Trip

With so many incredible species of birds in the Galapagos, you’ll want to view as many as possible during your visit. The climate and ecosystem make any time of year a great season to plan a visit to the Galapagos with various species to delight you at all times.

Consider joining an organized bird-watching tour to make the most of your trip with a planned itinerary and knowledgeable guides who can quickly point out the different species. You can also plan your bird-watching tour by following internet guides and itineraries others have completed and enjoyed.

Whichever way that you choose to view the incredible birds on the Galapagos Islands, make sure that you have an app or a guidebook that you can use to keep track of what you’ve seen. The BirdsEye Galapagos App will help you identify the different birds you see. You can also use the digital checklist on eBird. If you prefer to carry a paper copy, we recommend a pocket field guide in a laminated version.

Final Thoughts

If you have the chance to go on a bird-watching trip to the Galapagos Islands, consider yourself extremely lucky. The adventure will undoubtedly thrill your senses and provide you with a lifetime of memories. Any serious bird-watcher should add the Galapagos Islands to their travel bucket list, as you’ll be one of the privileged few that gets to experience some of the best bird sightings anywhere in the world

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