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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Swallow-Tailed Gull (Endemic)
A distinctive red ring lines the eye of the Swallow-tailed Gull, the world’s only nocturnal gull.
Red-billed Tropic Bird (Indigenous)
Pelicans are common in the Galapagos. Predominately, 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 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.
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. 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.
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 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.
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.
Galapagos Wildlife: Animals To See In October
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