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Bird Watching in the Galapagos Islands

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Though the landscapes are pristine and beautiful, it’s really the Galapagos wildlife that’s the star of the islands. The Galapagos Islands are one of the best places in the world for bird watching. Not only because are there so many species, but you can also get unbelievably close to them.

According to Galapagos Conservancy, an organization focused on Galapagos biodiversity conservation, there are 56 native bird species. 45 of which are endemic to the islands, meaning they are not found anywhere else.

Honestly, we went to the Galapagos for the animal wildlife. Neither of us had ever paid much attention to birds before this trip. Though it’s hard not to become interested when a baby Blue Footed Booby walks straight up to your lens. We hope one day you get to experience the magic of these islands, as there’s nowhere quite like it in the world.

Galapagos Bird Watching: Sea Birds

Blue Footed Booby (Indigenous)

Three types of boobies live in the Galapagos. By far, the most famous is the Blue Footed Booby, aptly named for their bright colored feet. Though found on several islands, North Seymour and Punta Pitt on San Cristóbal are the best places for observing.

July is known as their mating season, and they have quite the elaborate dance. However, in October we saw all stages of their ritual. From the mating dance, to nesting mothers, hatching babies, and juveniles waddling around.

Pair of Blue Footed Boobies performing mating dance, North Seymour Island, Galapagos
Mating pair of Blue Footed Boobies, North Seymour Island
Blue Footed Booby with baby, Punta Pitt, Isla San Cristóbal, Galapagos Islands
Adult and baby, Punta Pitt, Isla San Cristóbal
Baby Blue Footed Booby sits among the rocks, North Seymour, Galapagos Islands
Baby Blue Footed Booby, North Seymour

Red Footed Booby (Indigenous)

Typically only found on Genovesa or San Cristóbal Island, the Red Footed Booby are the only booby to nest in shrubs. Nesting season is from January to September, but we saw this one in October.   

Red Footed Booby, Punta Pitt, Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands
Red Footed Booby, Isla San Cristóbal

Nazca Booby (Indigenous)

Slightly bigger than the other two boobies, the Nazca Booby does not have brightly colored feet. However, they are very pretty, with striking white and black contrasting feathers. They are easy to spot all year, especially on the islands of Española, San Cristóbal, and Genovesa. 

Nazca Booby, Isla Espanola, Galapagos Islands
Baby Nazca Booby, Isla Española
Nazca Booby in flight, Isla Espanola, Galapagos Islands
Adult Nazca Booby in flight, Isla Española

Waved Albatross (Indigenous)

A definite must see for anyone headed to the Galapagos for bird watching. The Waved Albatross breeds only on the island of Española. Listed as critically endangered, these beautiful birds mate for life and only raise a maximum of one egg per year.

Their most notable feature are their wings. With a wingspan of 7 to 8 feet, these large birds depend significantly on the wind for flight. Once in the air, they soar gracefully, using very little energy. However, it’s quite comical watching them take off, or one of their not so graceful landings.

Mating pair of Waved Albatross, Isla Española, Galapagos Islands
Waved Albatross, Isla Española
Waved Albatross in flight, Galapagos Islands
Waved Albatross in flight, Isla Española

Frigate Bird (Indigenous)

Seen throughout the islands, the Frigate Bird has the largest body to weight wing span ratio of any bird in the world. It’s also quite interesting that their feathers are not oiled, like other sea birds. This means they can’t dive into the water. Getting too wet could cause them to drown.

These birds mate year-round, so timing depends on the islands climate. October on North Seymour had plenty of nesting activity. From males puffing out their bright red balloon chests to attract the ladies, to little ones peering from the nests.

Frigate Bird with his red puffed chest during mating season, North Seymour, Galapagos Islands
Frigate Bird, North Seymour
Baby Frigate bird, North Seymour, Galapagos Islands
Baby Frigate Bird, North Seymour

Galapagos Penguin (Endemic)

The second smallest penguin in the world is also the only penguin found north of the equator. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get close enough for any great photos. They were so fast in the water, we just couldn’t catch up with them. 

Galapagos Penguin Swims close to shore, Isla Bartolome, Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Penguin swimming, Isla Bartolome
Penguins on the shore, Isla Bartolome, Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Penguins, Isla Bartolome

Swallow-Tailed Gull (Endemic)

A distinctive red ring lines the eye of the Swallow-tailed Gull, the world’s only nocturnal gull.

Swallow Tailed Gull, Galapagos Islands
Swallow-Tailed Gull, Isla Plaza

Red-billed Tropic Bird (Indigenous)

When looking for information on the Galapagos, we saw a picture of this bird without any labeling. We thought it was a Bermuda Longtail, also known as the White-tailed Tropic Bird. After a discussion with our guide, the bird we wanted to see was actually the Red-billed Tropic Bird. One of only three types of longtail tropic birds in the world. The third being the Red-tailed Tropic Bird.
Red Billed Tropic Bird, Isla Espanola, Galapagos Islands
Red-Billed Tropic Bird, Isla Española

Pelican (Indigenous)

Pelicans are common in the Galapagos. Predominately, found along the beaches, mangroves, or fishing piers. Especially at dawn or dusk.

Pelican in flight, Isla Isabela, Galapagos Islands
Pelican in flight, Isla Isabela

Galapagos Bird Watching: Shore Birds

Herons (Endemic and Indigenous)

Several variations of Heron inhabit the Galapagos Islands. The most interesting is the tiny and endemic Lava Heron. They sit on the rocks in the mangroves waiting for their prey to swim by.

We also saw several Great Blue Heron and Egret at the beaches. Though Egrets are common elsewhere, this species had much larger feet than we’ve seen before.

Lava Heron waiting for fish, Black Turtle Cove, Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Lava Heron
Great Blue Heron eating a fish, Galapagos Islands
Great Blue Heron
Galapagos Egret walking through shrubs

White-Cheeked Pintail Duck (Endemic)

The beautiful Galapagos White-cheeked Pintail Duck typically stays in pairs. We found these two at Pozas Salinas de Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island. 

White Cheeked Pintail Ducks, Galapagos Islands
White-Cheeked Pintail Duck, Isla Isabela

Flamingo (Indigenous)

Flamingos are another great find on Isabela Island. We found several flocks in the wetlands surrounding Puerto Villamil.

Flamingo feeding, Isla Isabela, Galapagos Islands
Flamingo feeding, Isla Isabela

Black-Neck Stilt Bird (Indigenous)

Aptly named, Black-neck Stilt birds use their stilt like legs to wade through the water to feed. 

Black-Neck Stilt Bird wading through water, Isla Isabela, Galapagos Islands
Black-Neck Stilt Bird, Isla Isabela

Galapagos Bird Watching: Land Birds

Darwin's Finches (Endemic and Indigenous)

These little critters are where the theory of evolution started. There are 14 different types of Darwin Finch.  All similar in size, shape and color. All endemic, except for the Coco Finch.

What really sets these birds apart from each other is their diet and habitat. This lends to physical adaptions in their beak size and shape. For example, long thin beaks for finding insects, and short wide beaks for crushing seeds. When you see these birds, you’ll instantly understand how Darwin developed his theory.

Darwin Finch on a cactus, Isla Isabela, Galapagos Islands
Finch, Isla Isabela

Galapagos Hawk (Endemic)

Though they reside on most of the larger islands in the Galapagos, the Galapagos Hawk is one of the most endangered hawks in the world. Luckily, we saw five on our trip. What surprised us most, is how close we could get to them without them flying away. 

Galapagos Hawk perched, Isla Sombrero Chino, Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Hawk, Isla Sombrero Chino

Galapagos Dove (Endemic)

Another beautiful bird only seen in the Galapagos is the Galapagos Dove. Interestingly, keep a look out on the ground for these guys as they prefer not to fly. 

Close up of a Galapagos Dove
Dove, Isla Española

Galapagos Mockingbird (Endemic)

Galapagos Mockingbirds include four species, broken into six subspecies endemic to specific islands. 

Galapagos Mockingbird perched on a branch, Santa Fe Island
Mockingbird, Santa Fe Island

Flycatcher (Endemic)

Also endemic to the islands, these cute fellas love their picture taken. This tiny Galapagos Flycatcher on Floreana Island wouldn’t leave us alone. 

Galapagos Flycatcher, Isla Floreana, Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Flycatcher, Isla Floreana

Yellow Warbler (Indigenous)

Though Yellow Wablers are common outside of the Galapagos, we felt they deserved an honorable mention. We saw these bright yellow birds on just about every island we visited. 

Yellow Warbler, Isla Floreana, Galapagos Islands
Yellow Warbler, Isla Floreana

Galapagos Wildlife: Animals To See In October

Not only are the Galapagos Islands a fantastic bird watching destination, they are also home to some very unique land and marine animals.   

Headed to the Galapagos? Bookmark this guide or pin it in Pinterest so you can find it later. 

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