The Galapagos Islands have a surprising number of bird species. There are 56 native species of birds of the Galapagos that live on the islands full time; 45 of these are endemic to the archipelago, which means they can’t be found anywhere else, and the other 11 are indigenous, which means they do live in other places besides the Galapagos. The islands are also home to 29 species of migrant birds; these are both native and migratory. The various birds are categorized as land, shore, or sea birds.
Also known as the Galapagos albatross, the waved albatross (Phoebastria irrorata) is the largest birds of the Galapagos. It can weigh up to 11 pounds and has a wingspan of 7 or 8 feet. They breed only on one island, Española, where they live in two large colonies. They have also sometimes been seen on Isla de la Plata and Genovesa Island. Waved albatrosses mate for life, and both parents take care of the young.
The blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii) is one of the best-known and most common birds of the Galapagos. Their name comes from the Spanish word “bobo,” which means “fool” or “clown” and could refer to their clumsiness on land or their fearlessness around humans. Blue-footed boobies have no natural predators, so they spend a lot of time on land and even nest on the ground. Seymour Island is one of their main breeding grounds; there are so many boobies there that visitors have to be careful to not step on any of their nests.
The Galapagos hawk (Buteo galapagoensis) is endemic to the islands and also the only diurnal bird of prey on the Galapagos. It feeds on insects, giant centipedes, rodents, and small reptiles including the young of tortoises, sea turtles, and iguanas. This bird’s mating behavior is highly unusual; the Hawks practice polyandry, where each female takes several mates. The males all help the female care for the eggs and young.
The swallow-tailed gull (Creagrus furcatus) is the world’s only fully nocturnal gull. It feeds on the squid and fish that surface at night to eat plankton. This species can be found throughout the Galapagos Islands, and it nests on cliff ledges. Swallow-tailed gulls mate for life, and these mated pairs stay in small groups that build nests and lay eggs at the same time. Swallow-tailed gulls have a single chick and both parents care for it.
The Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is the only penguin that lives above the equator. It’s also one of the smaller penguins. The Galápagos has a population of around 2,000 birds, and around 95 percent of them live on the islands of Fernandina and Isabela. They nest in caves and breed all year long.
The magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) has several nicknames: Spanish sailors called them “pirate birds” and “man-o’-wars” for their habit of attacking other birds to steal their food. Darwin called them the “condor of the oceans” for their exceptionally long wingspan and ability to stay airborne for days. The magnificent frigatebird’s wingspan can match that of the waved albatross despite being a significantly smaller bird. This species, in fact, has the proportionately greatest wingspan of any living bird, and it’s popular with visitors due to its aerial acrobatics. The male is all black with a red throat pouch that it inflates during mating season. The female, which is slightly larger, has a blue eye ring and white breast and shoulders.
Darwin’s finches comprise 14 species that all belong to the tanager family of birds and aren’t closely related to true finches at all. They are all members of the subfamily Geospizinae. While some finches can be found throughout the islands, others are endemic to just one or two of them. The finches are known for their wide diversity in beak shape that reflects their diet and niche. The large ground finch (Geospiza magnirostris), for example, has a massive beak used for cracking seeds while the small tree finch (Camarhynchus parvulus) has a small beak designed for hunting insects. The sharp-billed ground finch (G. difficilis) is a parasitic species that drinks the blood of other birds.
Four species of mockingbirds belonging to the genus Mimus live on the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos mockingbird (M. parvulus) is the most widespread species and can be found on several islands while the other three are all confined to a single island. The Española mockingbird (M. macdonaldi) is the biggest and fearless of humans. The Floreana mockingbird (M. trifasciatus) has the sad distinction of being one of the world’s rarest birds; there are only 250 left. The San Cristobal mockingbird (M. melanotis) is shyer than the other three species.
The Galapagos flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) has the smallest population of flamingos in the world; there are only 320 to 350 left, so they are therefore considered an endangered species. While other flamingo species necessitate large groups for mating, Galápagos flamingos need only a few pairs. They inhabit saltwater lagoons near the sea and are filter feeders that mainly eat brine shrimp.