Bold and inquisitive, the Galapagos Mockingbird is a character that will come right up to introduce himself, with no fear whatsoever.
These are wonderfully charismatic and audacious birds, and very popular with Galapagos visitors as a result. I even remember a Mockingbird perched on the head of one lucky tourist during my first cruise, singing a sweet melody, oblivious to our snapping cameras.
Today, we can find 4 different mockingbird species that are endemic to the Galapagos Islands, but one is critically endangered, and two vulnerable. In the words of Harper Lee’s character, Atticus: “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”, so those found at Galapagos need our helping hand.
So, keep reading to learn more about Galapagos Mockingbirds, where you can see them, and the surprising role that they played in the evolution of species.
In 1835, the HMS Beagle brought English botanist Charles Darwin to the Galapagos Islands, where he found a species of bird that would help shape natural history forever – the Galapagos Mockingbird.
During his time at Galapagos, Darwin shot and collected hundreds of wildlife specimens, including a decent number of mockingbirds, which at the time he called mocking-thrushes. It wasn’t until later in the voyage that he began to notice their close resemblance to the mockingbirds that he had found on mainland South America. Even more curiously, he noticed that the size and beak shape of mockingbirds was slightly different between each Galapagos island.
This was Darwin’s Eureka moment when he realized that, not only had the Galapagos Mockingbirds descended from the original mainland species but also mockingbirds on different islands had evolved in their own unique ways to suit the natural habitat of each island.
From these observations, Darwin’s famous Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection was born, and human knowledge was changed forever.
The good news is that Galapagos Mockingbirds are a guaranteed sighting on any vacation to the Galapagos Islands. They are land birds that can be spotted year-round, so on a Galapagos Cruise or Galapagos Land Tour, you will undoubtedly come face to beak with them.
Your naturalist guide will be happy to point them out to you and explain the adaptations made by each Galapagos Mockingbird species. Fortunately, it is easy to tell the difference between them, as the different species are named after the island on which you find them – see how many of the 4 species you can tick off, and try to recognize the subtle differences between them as Darwin did.
Mockingbirds are named due to their impressive ability to mimic (or mock) the calls of other bird species, yet curiously none of the Galapagos species today have this skill.
They are easy to recognize, with long legs and tail, slim curved beak, and pretty brown, grey, and white plumage. Their sweet song and lack of fear with humans is the clear giveaway.
Galapagos mockingbirds follow a complex social structure, unlike mainland species. They live in social groups within a defined territory, which they will all defend aggressively together when under threat, the principal danger being human-introduced species such as rats and cats.
So, let’s learn a little more about each Galapagos Mockingbird Species, and where we can find them.
The Galapagos Mockingbird is by far the most common of the 4 species and is widespread across the archipelago. They are most often seen hopping or running along the ground, rather than in flight, and are omnivores - feeding on insects, seeds, and even the blood of other dead bird species.
The Galapagos Mockingbird has an interesting relationship with Marine Iguanas, who have learned to recognize the warning call of mockingbirds under threat and react for their own safety. Unfortunately, Marine Iguanas make no sound themselves so they are unable to return the favor.
Conservation Status: Endangered
Scientific Name: Mimus Melanotis
Can be seen on: San Cristobal.
The San Cristobal Mockingbird is the smallest of the Galapagos species, and also considerably shyer than the others. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, mangroves, and shrubland. This species is endangered largely due to rats and cats on inhabited San Cristobal island, as well as habitat loss of the Opuntia Cactus.
Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
Scientific Name: Mimus Trifasciatus
Can be seen on: Champion & Gardner Islets close to Floreana.
The Floreana Mockingbird population now is down to just 150-200 birds, with active conservation projects underway to protect them. Back in Darwin’s day, he reported a plentiful population right across Floreana island, yet today they are extinct.
The few remaining Floreana Mockingbirds migrated closeby to the small islets of Champion and Gardner, where they continue to live today. They are almost identical to the Galapagos mockingbird, except for their red-brown eyes and dark patches on their side breast.
Conservation Status: Vulnerable
Scientific Name: Mimus Macdonaldi
Can be seen on: Española.
The most charismatic of the Galapagos mockingbird species is that found on Española Island. Here we find a more audacious and aggressive bird, that harasses visiting tourists to give them snacks or water – this can be quite the spectacle.
In appearance, they are also distinct, with a longer and more pronounced curved beak than the other Galapagos Mockingbird species.
Written by John Potts
John is the original founder of Happy Gringo. He is from London UK and has over 17 years of travel and work experience in Latin America. John´s biggest passions in life are travel and nature, he has had the pleasure to visit more than 75 different countries, and calls Quito, in Ecuador, home.