An Unrelenting Bloodsucker: The Vampire Finch of the Galapagos

vampire finch

Isolated and enigmatic, the enchanted isles seem like the perfect bubble of mischief for unusual things to evolve, stir and flutter about. Enter the Vampire Finch, a character in the Galapagos’ never ending book of evolution that’s both equal parts incredible and disturbing. As the name implies, it’s a parasitic bird that evolved to acquire its food in a really peculiar way.

(Were)Wolf & Vampire Finch

Wolf Island sits approximately 200 km (120 miles) northwest of the main cluster of islands in the Galapagos. As if to add to the mystery of the island and the Vampire Finch that lives here, the Galapagos National Park forbids any visitor landings here. Aside from scientists that are allowed to research wildlife on the island, the only other human presence tends to be scuba divers that only come to bask in its waters.

vampire finch

Photo by: Guitarfish

The island is a stone fortress of steep, grey cliffs and an iconic stone arch formation that almost makes it look like Dracula’s discarded castle. Most of the year sees the island, which is home to thousands of seabirds, pounded by waves and practically zero rainfall. Seeds that do manage to pop up throughout its terrain are promptly eaten by ravenous seabirds. Starvation seems imminent on a desolate and eerie island such as this one. But necessity has always been the mother of invention, especially when it comes to evolution.

Thirst First, Quenches Later

With a diet that consists of primarily of seeds and insects, the Vampire Finch seems misnamed at first. But when tough times are upon them (and not only when darkness falls) does the Vampire Finch truly live up to its name in an apt and horrifying way. The common scarcity of fresh water and seeds on Wolf is what has led to them to develop this bizarre, blood-drinking behaviour.

vampire finch

Photo from: www.animalspot.net

With the largest and most pointed beak of all the members of Geospiza difficilis, the Vampire Finch acquired this sharp tool for reasons that mainly have to do with the drawing of blood. Scientists believe that this acquired, flesh-puncturing beak may be an extension of a former cleaning behaviour that involved the removal of ticks. It’s not completely implausible that the Vampire Finches actually provided a service to the birds it now preys on for blood.

Maybe they accidentally struck red gold one day when they picked a little too deeply into the back of a booby. Speaking of which…

Bound for Booby Blood and Eggs

The Vampire Finch feeds chiefly on the Nazca and blue-footed booby, relentlessly pecking at their backs and under their wings until a steady stream of nutritious blood comes drizzling out.

What’s interesting to note is that the boobies often seem pretty laissez-fare with the whole ordeal. Perhaps they still think that the vampire finches are removing parasites or, even more disturbing – have completely resigned themselves to the fact that nothing will make them (and their large numbers) stop.

Check out the following video to see for yourself (WARNING: Viewer discretion is advised):

Vampire Finches are also slightly more terrifying due to the fact that they go after baby boobies and eggs too. Incapable of cracking through the tough shell with their beaks, they’ve actually come up with a clever way to break the eggs using their environment. This involves rolling them around into rocks until they break open and then greedily extract the golden juices from within.

Just when you think they couldn’t get any more troubling, they do.

About Christopher Klassen

With parents that worked for the U.S. Foreign Service up until he graduated from high school, Chris was raised to have the heart of a nomad throughout his life. He has resided in Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador throughout his years, and just recently spent the past four up in Canada finishing his Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy & English at the University of British Columbia.

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