Bird watching in the Galapagos Islands on an island hopping tour or cruise takes exploring to new heights. Despite the archipelago’s distant location, the endemic and migrating birds that take residence in the islands attract savvy bird watchers from around the world. Keep reading for ten amazing birds to check off your list while in the Galapagos Islands.
Only found on Española Island during the months of April to December when they come in from sea to mate, the waved albatross is the largest bird in the islands. Their wingspan can reach a length of seven to eight feet, allowing them to spend long hours in the air gliding. The two colonies on Española during the mating season make up the world’s entire population of the species, an estimated 50,000 and 70,000 individual birds.
The magnificent frigatebird is another of the airborne creatures in the Galapagos Islands whose large wingspan allows them to spend long times in the air gliding when out at sea. They are often seen following Galapagos cruises and on the islands of North Seymour, Floreana, San Cristobal and Genovesa. The Spanish nicknamed the birds, ‘pirate birds,’ as they often chase other birds in the archipelago including blue-footed boobies, and force them to regurgitate their food by grabbing their tail feathers and shaking them.
Great frigatebirds are similar in appearance to the magnificent frigatebirds with slightly smaller bodies. They travel greater distances out to sea when in flight, making the outer islands good places to see them.
Both kinds of frigatebirds use their red pouches to attract females when courting. The pouch is inflated to the size of a basketball, making witnessing the ritual during a bird watching tour in the Galapagos a spectacle to remember.
The Espanola Mockingbird is another species that finds its way onto birdwatcher’s lists when visiting the islands. Endemic to Espanola Island, the birds are often spotted shortly after landing on the island as they nest and feed in the dry shrubs along the shore.
In order to spot the flightless cormorant on bird watching tours of the Galapagos Islands you need to take a trip to Isabela or Fernandina Islands. The birds are the biggest of the cormorant species, endemic to the islands, and the only one of their kind that doesn’t fly. What they lack in flight they more than make up for in the water, their powerful hindquarters allow them to plunge to deep depths, quickly maneuvering after food.
While not endemic to the Galapagos Islands and found in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans-the red-billed tropicbird population in the archipelago is one of the most frequent in the islands. They are graceful flyers, their red beaks and white bodies complemented by their long, sleek tail feathers. They can be seen around the islands nesting in rocky cliffs, but are often out to sea and found flying overhead from cruise decks before they plunge into the ocean after food.
The Charles mockingbird or Floreana mockingbird is only found on Floreana Island. The birds are on the endangered species list as there are only 150 of their kind left in the world. For birdwatchers with the Charles Mockingbird on their list, a birdwatching tour that includes the offshore islets of Gardener and Champion are the only places to find them.
The Galapagos hawk is one of the only predators in the islands. They are only found in the archipelago and are often seen on the populated islands of Isabela and Fernandina. They are more often seen in flight, circling at low altitudes in search of prey below.
The Lava heron is another endemic bird of the Galapagos Islands, often seen along the shores of the inhabited and uninhabited islands and wading in the shallow waters of inland lagoons. The bird’s plumage is natural camouflage against predators-they blend into the volcanic shoreline when not diving for food in the open water. They are commonly found on the shores of all islands around the Galapagos.
Blue-footed boobies are often on the top of bird watcher’s lists for the Galapagos Islands and for good reason. Their clown-like appearance, unique mating ritual, and frequent appearance in the air and on the ground during both island hopping tours and Galapagos cruises make them birds that are fun to spot multiple times during a trip. They feed by diving from heights in the air deep into the ocean, are found at many places in the archipelago including Espanola, Fernandina, Floreana, Isabela, Pinzon, and Santa Cruz. North Seymour has one of the largest populations on land, where the birds are seen along the paths of the island.
The largest colony of red-footed boobies in the world is found on Genovesa Island, were following a path from the landing site up into the volcanic fields of the inland puts you smack dab in the middle of their breeding grounds. The birds are the smallest of their species and spend most of their time out at sea, where they are seen diving from the skies after flying fish leaping out of the water.
The Nazca booby is the more reserved member of the booby family in the Galapagos Islands-they spend most of their time out at sea and don’t flaunt their coloring or enact in elaborate mating rituals. One of the places to see Nazca boobies in the Galapagos is on San Cristobal at Punta Pitt, where Blue and red-footed boobies are often spotted as well.
For more information about bird watching in the Galapagos Islands, island hopping trips, and cruises that explore the archipelago, contact a member of our staff.