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Galapagos Islands - BirdForum Opus

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South America, Ecuador

Photo by Helen Baines
Bartolome Island in the Galapagos Archipelago


Ever since Charles Darwin visited this archipelago in 1835, the Galapagos Islands have been a dream destination for many travellers with an interest in natural history. Since the 1960s this dream has become a reality and many thousands have followed in the footsteps of Darwin and visited these islands.

The islands are largely arid at sea level, but the larger islands have highlands with more humidity and consequently with low forests. Beauty is in the eye of the person looking, though the islands have sometimes been described as lacking that feature. The Giant Tortoises and iguanas, the ridiculously tame birds (including seabirds) and the rich and varied life in the surrounding seas ensure the archipelago remains popular.

For the birders the appeal is the many endemic species found in the Galapagos and although the bird list for the islands is not long (about 150 species have been recorded in all) it includes many species that cannot be seen elsewhere.


Notable Species

There are between 25 and 30 species considered truly endemic with an additional number of endemic subspecies. Some additional species have the main or total breeding population in the Galapagos but may be seen away from the islands when not breeding. Many of these birds can be seen on the usual tourist trips to the islands. However, to see almost all of them usually requires a trip with a bird tour company or an expensive and complicated independent visit. Mangrove Finch is currently not within reach for tourists, as the tour boats are not allowed to visit the bay where they still cling on with a very small population. Galapagos Penguin and Flightless Cormorant breed on Fernandina and Isabela and the penguin can also be seen on Santiago, Santa Cruz and Floreana.

The Galapagos Hawk is now rare and much reduced in range but still occurs on Fernandina, Isabela, Santiago, Santa Cruz, Española, and others. The range of the Galapagos Rail is little-known but it is thought to still occur on Santa Cruz and James, probably also Fernandina, Floreana and others. Floreana Mockingbird is restricted to the islets of Gardner-near-Floreana and Champion off Floreana, the Hood Mockingbird to Hood and nearby Gardner-near-Hood and the San Cristobal Mockingbird to San Cristobal. The Large Ground-Finch is confined to Isabela and Genovesa and the Sharp-beaked Ground-Finch to Genovesa, Pinta, Fernandina, Santiago, Darwin, and Wolf. Common Cactus-Finch occurs relatively widespread while Large Cactus-Finch is on Española, Darwin, Wolf, and Genovesa. Vegetarian Finch on Santa Cruz. Large Tree-Finch is found on Floreana and Santa Cruz, Medium Tree-Finch on Floreana, Woodpecker Finch on Santa Cruz and Mangrove Finch on Fernandina and Isabela.

The remaining endemics are more widespread and occur on most of the main islands. The Galapagos Heron/Lava Heron occurs throughout the islands and is variously regarded as a full species or a race of Striated Heron which also has been reported from the archipelago. (But these reports most likely refer to Lava Heron which seems to occur in two color phases, which can be separated form mainland Striated heron by differences in build such as legs being sturdier).

Waved Albatross is a near endemic that breeds on Española and is present May-August, spending the remainder of the year at sea off Peru and Ecuador. Other breeding seabirds include Galapagos Petrel, Galapagos Shearwater and Elliot's Storm Petrel, Band-rumped Storm Petrel and Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel.

Endemic subspecies include the local form of Yellow Warbler and White-cheeked Pintail among others. There are also Brown Pelican, Red-billed Tropicbird, boobies, frigatebirds, Brown Noddy and Sooty Tern.

Many species of migrants have been recorded in the islands including 30 species of wader, some rare seabirds, waterfowl and various passerines and fuller exploration would undoubtedly increase the list.


Birds you can see here include:

Galapagos Penguin, (Isabela, James, Santa Cruz, Floreana), Waved Albatross, (May-Aug), Cape Petrel, Galapagos Petrel, (James, San Cristobal, Floreana and Isabela), Sooty Shearwater, Galapagos Shearwater, Elliot's Storm Petrel, (breeding grounds unknown), Band-rumped Storm Petrel, Jervis, James, Plaza, Tower, Floreana and Hood), Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel, Red-billed Tropicbird, Brown Pelican, Blue-footed Booby, (Isabela, James, Santa Cruz, Floreana, Hood and San Cristobal), Masked Booby, Red-footed Booby, (Wenman, Tower, Gardner-near-Floreana and Isla Pitt off San Cristobal), Flightless Frigatebird, Magnificent Frigatebird, (Wenman, Seymour and Tower, Isabela, San Cristobal and Floreana), Great Frigatebird, (Wenman and Tower, Hood, Gardner-near-Floreana, Tortuga, Crossman Islands, Seymour and Isla Pitt), Great Blue Heron, (Wenman, Pinta and Marchena), Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Western Cattle Egret, (Galapagos), Striated Heron, (Isabela, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Duncan and Pinta), Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, American Flamingo, James, Santa Cruz and Floreana), White-cheeked Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, Osprey, Galapagos Hawk, (Isabela, James, Santa Cruz and others), Peregrine Falcon, (May-Jun), Galapagos Rail, (recorded on Fernandina, Isabela, Santa Cruz, James, Floreana, San Cristobal and Baltra), Paint-billed Crake, (San Cristobal, Isabela and Tower), Common Gallinule, (Floreana, San Cristobal and Fernandina), American Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, Grey Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Sanderling, (mainly in northern winter but some present all year), Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, Short-billed Dowitcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Wandering Tattler, (mainly in northern winter but some present all year), Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Surfbird, Red-necked Phalarope, Wilson's Phalarope, Swallow-tailed Gull, (breeds on most smaller islands and cliffs on most larger islands), Lava Gull, (uncommon but widespread breeder), Franklin's Gull, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Common Tern, Sooty Tern, Common Noddy-Tern, Galapagos Dove, (found on drier parts of all main islands, commonest on Hood), Tower, Pinta, James and Santa Fe), Dark-billed Cuckoo, (Isabela, Santa Cruz, Floreana and San Cristobal, (also recorded on Duncan, James and Santa Fe), Barn Owl, (commonest on Fernandina, also recorded on Isabela, James, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal), Short-eared Owl, Common Nighthawk, Belted Kingfisher, Brujo Flycatcher, Galapagos, (most main islands except Culpeper), and recorded once on Tower and three times on Wenman), Purple Martin, (recorded most often on Hood), Galapagos Martin, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Galapagos Mockingbird, (Isabela, Daphne, Seymour and Santa Cruz), personatus on James, Pinta, Marchena and Jervis, wenmani on Wenman, hullii on Culpeper, bauri on Tower and barringtoni on Santa Fe), Charles Mockingbird, Hood Mockingbird, Chatham Mockingbird, Large Ground-Finch, Medium Ground-Finch, (found on most islands except Culpeper, Wenman and Tower, and only a few old records for Hood; Some birds on Daphne and Crossman Islands appear to be intermediate between Medium and Small Ground-Finches), Small Ground-Finch, (found on all main islands except Culpeper, Wenman and Tower), Sharp-beaked Ground-Finch, (difficilis is found on Tower and Pinta, septentrionalis on Culpeper and Wenman and debilirostris on James, Isabela and Fernandina), Common Cactus-Finch, (intermedia on Santa Fe, Floreana and Santa Cruz, formerly also Duncan), abingdoni on Pinta and rothschildi on Marchena Commonest on Santa Cruz and Santa Fe), Large Cactus-Finch, propinqua on Tower and darwini on Culpeper and Wenman), Vegetarian Finch, (found on main islands except Santa Fe, Baltra, Seymour, Culpeper, Wenman, Tower and Hood), Large Tree-Finch, affinis on Fernandina and Isabela and psittacula on Seymour, Santa Fe, Santa Cruz, Floreana, Duncan, Jervis and James), Medium Tree-Finch, Small Tree-Finch, Jervis, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, Seymour, Isabela, Duncan, Floreana and Fernandina and salvini on San Cristobal), Woodpecker Finch, (endemic: pallidus is found on James, Jervis, Seymour, Duncan, Santa Cruz and Floreana, productus on Fernandina and Isabela and striatipectus on San Cristobal), Mangrove Finch, found only on Isabela and Fernandina), Warbler Finch, becki is found on Culpeper and Wenman, mentalis on Tower, fusca on Pinta and Marchena, olivacea on James, Jervis, Seymour, Duncan, Isabela and Fernandina), bifasciata on Santa Fe, luteola on San Cristobal, cinerascens on Hood and ridgwayi on Floreana), Bobolink, Yellow Warbler

Other Wildlife

The Galapagos Giant Tortoise and the endemic Land Iguana and Marine Iguana are the best known of the archipelago's non-avian inhabitants but there are also sea-turtles, Galapagos Sea Lion, Galapagos Fur Seal and various cetaceans in the local seas as well as a large population of sharks. Galapagos is also well know as a diving destination.

Site Information

History and Use

Since the discovery in 1535, Galapagos has increasingly been visited by humans. For a while, the main interest in the islands was as a base for whaling, but settlers also moved in. In the last century or so, tourism has increased in Galapagos, with the Ecuadorian government and the National Park system trying to control what is going on. This seems to be more successful regarding controlling tourists than controlling immigrants who want to make money by servicing the tourists.

Areas of Interest

Most islands have one or more populations of interest as described in the "Notable species" section.

Access and Facilities

A trip to the Galapagos with a bird tour company is the only way to guarantee seeing all the endemics possible (currently excluding Mangrove Finch) as the ordinary tourist trips do not visit all the necessary sites. However, these tourist trips are geared towards natural history and many of the archipelago's specialties will be seen.

It is possible to sail to the Galapagos from Guayaquil in Ecuador but most visitors prefer to fly from Quito or Guayaquil, landing at Baltra near Santa Cruz where cruises can be arranged with all accommodation and food included.

External Links

Galapagos Islands

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Content and images originally posted by Steve