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.
According to Galapagos Conservancy, the islands have fifty-six native bird species, of which forty-five are endemic, meaning they are not found anywhere else. Not only are there so many species, but the birds have no fear of predators. You can get unbelievably close to them.
Honestly, before this trip neither of us paid much attention to birds. We went to the Galapagos for their rare animal wildlife. However, when a baby Blue Footed Booby walks straight up to your lens, it’s hard not to get excited
We hope one day you get to experience these magical islands. Nowhere in the world is like the Galapagos. For bird watchers, these islands are a bucket list must.
Galapagos Bird-watching: Sea Birds
Blue Footed Booby (Indigenous)
Three types of boobies live in the Galapagos.
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.
Their mating season is in July, and they have quite the elaborate dance. However, even in October we saw this quirky ritual. Plus, we saw nesting mothers, babies hatching, and juveniles waddling around.
Red Footed Booby (Indigenous)
Typically, only found on Genovesa or San Cristóbal Island, the Red Footed Booby is the only booby to nest in shrubs. Nesting season is from January to September, but we saw this one in October.
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. Nazca Boobies are easy to spot all year, especially on the islands of Española, San Cristóbal, and Genovesa.
Waved Albatross (Indigenous)
The Waved Albatross is a must see for anyone bird-watching in the Galapagos Islands. This large bird only breeds on Española Island. Listed as critically endangered, these beautiful birds mate for life and only raise a maximum of one egg per year.
The albatross’ most notable feature is its wings. With a 7-to-8 foot wingspan, the albatross depends 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 do a not-so-graceful landing. Anyone remember Orville’s take off scene in The Rescuers animated movie? Yeah, it’s a bit like that.
Frigate Bird (Indigenous)
Seen throughout the islands, the Frigate Bird has the largest body-to-weight wingspan ratio of any bird in the world. It’s also quite interesting, unlike other sea birds their feathers are not oiled. This means they can’t dive into the water. Getting too wet could cause them to drown.
Frigate birds mate year-round, so timing depends on the island’s climate. October on North Seymour had plenty of nesting activity. Males puffing out their bright red balloon chests to attract the ladies and little ones peering from the nests were both common sights.
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 keep up.
Swallow-Tailed Gull (Endemic)
A distinctive red ring lines the Swallow-tailed Gull’s eye, the world’s only nocturnal gull.
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 discussing with our guide, we identified the bird we wanted to see as 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.
Pelicans are common in the Galapagos. Predominately, they are found along the beaches, mangroves, or fishing piers, especially at dawn or dusk.
Galapagos Bird-watching: Shore Birds
Herons (Endemic and Indigenous)
Several variations of Heron inhabit the Galapagos Islands. The tiny and endemic Lava Herons are the most interesting. They sit on the rocks in the mangroves waiting for 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.
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.
Flamingos are another great find on Isabela Island. We found several flocks in the wetlands surrounding Puerto Villamil.
Black-Neck Stilt Bird (Indigenous)
Aptly named, Black-neck Stilt birds use their stilt like legs to wade through the water to feed.
Galapagos Bird-watching: Land Birds
Darwin's Finches (Endemic and Indigenous)
These little critters are where the theory of evolution started. All similar in size, shape and color, there are fourteen types of Darwin Finch. Except for the Coco Finch, they are all endemic.
Diet and habitat are what sets these birds apart from each other. Each have physical adaptations in their beak size and shape. For example, some have long thin beaks for finding insects, and others have short wide beaks for crushing seeds. When you see these birds, you’ll instantly understand how Darwin’s theory developed.
Galapagos Hawk (Endemic)
Though the Galapagos Hawk lives on most larger islands in the Galapagos, it is one of the most endangered hawks in the world. Luckily, we saw five on our trip. We were very surprised by how close we could get without them flying away.
Galapagos Dove (Endemic)
The Galapagos Dove is another beautiful bird only seen in the Galapagos. Surprisingly, they prefer not to fly, so look for them on the ground.
Galapagos Mockingbird (Endemic)
Galapagos Mockingbirds include four species, broken into six subspecies, endemic to specific islands.
Also endemic to the islands, these cute fellas love their picture taken. This tiny Galapagos Flycatcher on Floreana Island wouldn’t leave us alone.
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.
Books on the Galapagos Islands
As the Galapagos are a once in a lifetime trip, we found having a guidebook essential for identifying all the birds and wildlife.
- Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galápagos Islands: An Identification Guide – The best guide we found on identifying the island’s vast wildlife.
- Lonely Planet Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands – We used the Lonely Planet Guidebook to plan our trip. Though it’s not full of photographs, its detailed information is wonderful for finding hidden gems.
Where to Stay in the Galapagos
If you’re going to the Galapagos for the wildlife, you’ll want to get on a cruise. However, we also spent a few days on Isla Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela. Both have many areas that don’t require a guide to explore. For us, Isla Isabela was a treasure trove of wildlife.
- Galapagos Morning Glory, Isla Santa Cruz – The rooms are simple but clean. Plus, we found the location perfect for exploring the island. The host was also amazing; he gave us great advice for booking a last-minute cruise, exploring the island, and getting over to Isla Isabela. We thought it was such great value, we stayed here both times we returned to Isla Santa Cruz.
- The Isabela Beach House – Just off the beach we loved this hotel’s location. It was an easy walk to the port and to get into town. We opted for a room with a balcony and sea view. Paradise!