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Galápagos Islands

Galapagos Short-eared Owl
Galapagos Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus galapagoensis ©Lee Dingain Website

The Galapagos archipelago is a group of raw volcanic islands straddling the equator in the Pacific Ocean, some 1,000 kilometres off the coast of South America. The islands were formed along the fault line on the western edge of the archipelago, and then, over the millennia, drifted eastwards. The combination of this east-to-west age progression and the relative newness of the islands have created the best-known example of the progression of evolution. This natural laboratory is now carefully preserved and regulated. This protection and the paucity of natural predators are responsible for the world famous spectacle of a fauna that is completely unfazed by human presence. It is mainly this approachability that draws up to 100,000 visitors a year to the islands.

Although a haven for animal life, the number of species on the island is limited. The Galapagos bird list includes a scattering of migrant species including Whimbrel, Tattler, and Franklin’s Gull and 57 resident species of which 25 are endemic to the islands. It is feasible to have close views of most of the endemic species during a standard one-week cruise of the islands. The list includes thirteen species of Darwin’s finches, the Lava Gull, Galapagos Penguin, Dark-rumped Petrel, Galapagos Flightless Cormorant, Lava Heron, Galapagos Martin, Vermillion Flycatcher, Short-eared Owl, Galapagos Hawk, Galapagos Dove and Galapagos Mockingbird. Add to this, spectacular sea birds, such as Boobies, Frigate Birds, Tropicbirds and Albatross, all of which are unusually approachable. Even the most dedicated bird watchers will be distracted, however, by close encounters with sea-lions, fur seals, tortoises, land and marine iguanas and a particularly rich marine life.

The plant life, although more abundant than the animal life in terms of variety, is restricted to about 560 species. Of these, almost 230 are endemic. Three endemic species are thought to have become extinct, and many others have experienced dramatic declines in recent years. It is thought that between 20 to 30 plant species and subspecies on the islands are currently facing extinction.

The Galapagos National Park

The fragility and importance of the island ecosystems has resulted in the Ecuadorian government declaring the islands a National Park. To protect the archipelago the National Park Service has developed rules which all visitors must adhere to. In summary these are:

* Visitors are restricted to officially approved areas, and must be accompanied by a recognised naturalist guide
* Nothing must be removed from the island and material must not be transported from island to island
* Food should not be taken onto most of the islands
* Visitors should leave the protected areas by sunset
* Visitors should not touch, feed or startle the animals.

Although these rules are undeniably necessary, visitors used to and expecting a more relaxed regime, including being able to explore areas independently, may find them restricting.

The Charles Darwin centre at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island is the centre of conservation and ecological research for the archipelago, and is open to visitors. Terrestrial conservation focuses on management of invasive species and how to restore the native biodiversity and ecosystems. The principal marine concern is the effects of overexploitation. The effects of human extraction upon the resources are being studied to develop sustainable management of the Marine Reserve.

Visiting the Galapagos

The usual way to explore is to use one of the several dedicated boats as a base. Cruise lengths vary from day trips to a week or more and the schedule of most boats accommodates visitors arriving by plane at Baltra airstrip. A Galapagos Park Naturalist Guide accompanies each boat.

The boats range from the basic to the luxurious, from small charters to cruise ships capable of sleeping 100 guests. There is no best time of year to visit, the equatorial climate is sub-tropical, allowing cruises to operate on a year round basis. Temperatures are determined mainly by the ocean currents and prevailing winds. Generally, December to May is warm and sunny; June to November is cool and breezy. Most species of bird nest year-round, so travellers can see courtship, mating, eggs incubating and hatching and chick rearing at almost any time of the year.

Contributor

Jill Tardivel

jill@tardivel.net

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 174

As at November 2016

Checklist

iGoTerra Checklist

iGoTerra Checklist

Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web

Useful Reading

Birds, Mammals & Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands

[2nd Edition] by Andy Swash & Rob Still published by Christopher Helm 2006 £16.99p
See Fatbirder Review

ISBN: 0713675519

Buy this book from NHBS.com

A Guide to the Birds of the Galapagos

Isabel Castro, Antonia Phillips (Illustrator) Paperback - 144 pages (1996) A & C Black

ISBN: 0713639164

Buy this book from NHBS.com

The Ecotravellers Wildlife Guide to Ecuador & the Galapagos islands

Pearson & Beletsky Academic Press (2000)

ISBN: 0120848139

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Guides & Tour Operators

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Tropic Ecological Adventures

Tour Operator

Tropic is a unique travel company offering superb nature-based trips with a genuine environmental and social commitment in Ecuador, one of the world’s richest natural destinations. We run programmes to all regions of Ecuador, but specialise in the Amazon and the Galapagos.

Galasam Galapagos Tours

Tour Operator

We are a largest tour operator company based in Guayaquil, Ecuador. We invite you to discover the GALAPAGOS ISLANDS on board one of the six yachts that we operate in the archipelago. The GALAPAGOS are just an incredible place. They are located 1000 Km far away from the coastline of Ecuador. There are 48 islands and rocks, and thirteen of them have over 14 Km square. Its tropical climate permits to grow to the most amazing fauna and flora species. Giant tortoises in the Charles Darwin Research Station -Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz island- marine and land iguanas, blue-footed boobies, colourful fishes and incredible views are waiting for you in there! Close your eyes for a sec. and think in the rugged landscape resembling the surface of the moon - Isabela island-, or in the beautiful red, white or black sand beaches…. And there is much more!

Andean Birding

Tour Operator

Join Andean Birding on an unforgettable bird cruise of a lifetime to the Galápagos Islands. On an eight-day cruise we will visit nine islands enjoying easy birding of the 58 resident species and 29 migrants. Birding on the Galápagos affords leisurely views of the birds due to their extraordinary island tameness and much of the time you don`t even have to use your binoculars!

Neblina Forest

Tour Operator

Each year, during Thanksgiving, Neblina Forest organizes the Galapagos Thanksgiving Birding Trip. Come and join our program, we want to share with you the opportunity to see most of the 28 endemic species of the Islands including Charles Mockingbird, Galápagos Martin, all the Darwin finches -including the super rare Mangrove Finch- along with the chance of snorkeling and discover -first hand- the Natural History of these unique ecosystems…

Quasar Expeditions

Tour Operator

We offer travel to the Galapagos Islands in small and mid-sized boats with family and friends: in company…

Trip Reports

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

CloudBirders

Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2008 [08 August] - Scott Olmstead

Report

Landing on Baltra and seeing for the first time the arid, scrubby landscape is always a surprise no matter how much you have read about the Galapagos. It just looks primitive. As we climbed out of the plane and into the welcoming heat, the birding got underway from the runway: we had already seen Galapagos Dove and a pair of Medium Ground-Finches before we even reached the tiny airport terminal…

2008 [11 November] - Nick Athanas

Report

You’ve probably already heard people people sing the praises of the Galapagos, but there’s a good reason for that. It truly is a magical place. The first time you land on one of those uninhabited islands covered with breeding seabirds, fearless sea lions, friendly finches, and curious mockingbirds, you feel a sense of awe that is just impossible to explain…

2009 [11 November] - Nick Athanas

Report

Even though a cruise through the Ecuadorian Enchanted Islands is normally a relaxing birding tour, this year’s trip faced from the very start a big challenge after having had in 2008 the great luck of getting the first photographic record in 30 years of a bird that seemed to be a Mangrove Finch on Fernandina Island (read the November 2008 TB trip report)…

2006 [12 December] - Scott Bowers

Report

We flew to Baltra in the Galapagos to join an 8 day expedition on the S.S. Samba. Our boat expedition visited Isla Plaza Sur, Isla Santa Cruz, Isla Española, Isla Floreana, Isla Isabella, Isla Fernandina, and Isla Santiago. At the end of the boat trip, we took another smaller boat to Isla Isabella to visit the highlands, made some day trips around Puerto Ayora, and I did an scuba dive at Isla Santiago…

2010 [11 November] - Andrés Vásquez

Report

After a direct flight from Quito to Baltra we arrived to the Enchanted Islands and moved immediately to the Fragata Yacht which was to be our comfortable home for the next seven nights. Even though the first finches were seen flying away from us at the airport, the first one we saw well was a male Medium Ground-Finch at the pier while we were waiting to board our yacht. There we also got the first of several Lava Gulls, several sunbathing Land Iguanas, and our first Galapagos Doves…

2013 [08 August] - Megan Crewe with Peter Freire

Report

…Among the chief highlights of a visit to the Galapagos are "Darwin's Finches," the unassuming little brown birds whose subtle differences helped Charles Darwin to crystallize his revolutionary theory of evolution. Now known to be drab members of the tanager family, these birds radiated out across the islands, changing subtly over the eons as they encountered new habitats and competitors…

2013 [07 July] - Eric Hynes & Peter Freire

Report

…We eventually tallied all of the endemic birds except Mangrove Finch, a species so endangered that access to the only remaining site has been closed. Teasing out the various Darwin's finches became a little clearer by the end of the week thanks to repetition. The seabird show, from storm-petrels to albatross, was simply spectacular. Marine mammals and reptiles rounded out our unforgettable adventure…

2013 [07 July] - Michael O'Brien

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…Little dramas were constantly playing out before our eyes: frigatebirds chasing distressed Red-footed Boobies to steal their fish; a Short-eared Owl snatching a Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel as it emerged from its crevice in the lava field; courting groups of Red-billed Tropicbirds screaming overhead, vying for superior nest sites; or a nestling Great Frigatebird desperately defending itself from an intruding adult Red-footed Booby…

2013 [06 June] - Willy Perez

Report

…The sea also provides a great assortment, of wildlife and we were lucky to see some of these animals even from the boat, such as Hammerhead Sharks, Bottlenose Dolphins, Pacific Green Turtle and many colorful fish…

2013 [06 June] - Andy Swash

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…But it was the amazing creatures of Galápagos and their total lack of fear of humans that made the tour such a magical experience, allowing us intimate encounters with some of the most fascinating birds, mammals, reptiles and, for those who wished to snorkel, fish on our beautiful planet. And the photographic opportunities were endless…

2012 [11 November] - Andrés Vásquez

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…We found all of Darwin ́s famous Finches except for the critically- endangered Mangrove Finch, (which most tours are not granted permission to visit due to strict protection measures in place for this bird the numbers under 100 individuals), and all the rest of endemics except for the cormorant as we, sadly, were not permitted to visit Isabela/Fernandina as originally planned….

2013 [10 October] - Paul Greenfield

PDF Report

…How does one put into words the sensation of swimming with playful Galapagos Penguins, or sharing an underwater feeding frenzy with Flightless Cormorants and diving Blue-footed Boobies?…

2013 [11 November] - Jose Illanes

PDF Report

…n this part of the archipelago, which at that time included Red-billed Tropicbird, Nazca, Blue-footed and Red- footed Boobies. The largest colony of Red-footed Boobies occurs in this area…

2014 [11 November] - Pablo Cervantes

PDF Report

... The following day we docked on yet another island, this time one of the oldest in the group, San Cristobal, where a mockingbird bearing the island’s name was our successful target for the day. Next up was a trip to two different areas of Espanola in the far south of the islands, where a visit to the principal nesting colony of the Waved Albatross was a serious highlight too...

2015 [07 July] - Michael O'Brien

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... From the first moments of this cruise, we saw firsthand one of the most unique aspects of Galápagos Wildlife: having evolved with no major land predators, the birds and other animals were utterly unafraid of humans. At every outing, sea lions, iguanas, doves, hawks, boobies, and mockingbirds were literally at arm’s-length. This behavioral trait was emphasized whenever we came across a migrant from the north, such as a Whimbrel or Wandering Tattler, which invariably flew off as we approached.

2015 [05 May] - Willy Perez & Peter Freire

Report

...Colorful birds were also a big attraction: male Magnificent and Great frigatebirds puffed out their pouches in full show, Red-billed Tropicbirds flew and called at eye level, and of course the dance of the Blue-footed Boobies was as always amazing. Flightless Cormorants and Galapagos Penguins dotted the dark rocky lava, storm-petrels followed our boat, and sometimes a loud splash from a ray kept us awake during our nighttime crossings.

2015 [11 November] - Charles Harper - North-east Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

Report

The Galapagos Islands were on my bucket list, and I asked by old college roomie to join me. We hadn't seen each other for more than thirty years. We had been biology students together, and I really wanted at least one more grand field trip together. Since Bob is a professional entomologist, I spent some time looking at other than avian species for a change.

2016 [05 May] - Andy Swash

PDF Report

There were very many highlights during the tour, but special mention should be made of the wonderful morning spent admiring Waved Albatrosses on Española, where we even had to step carefully to avoid birds nesting on the paths; excellent views of Floreana (Charles) Mockingbirds during a panga (dinghy) ride along the coast of the tiny island of Champion (landing is not permitted on this island, which is one of only two remaining strongholds for this Critically Endangered species); Medium Tree-fnches (also categorized as Critically Endangered) at point-blank range in the highlands of Floreana; close views of Flightless Cormorants and Galápagos Penguins on Isabela; the evening gathering of Galápagos Petrels off Santiago (another of the Critically Endangered breeding endemics); walking amongst breeding colonies of Blue-footed, Nazca and Red-footed Boobies and displaying Great and Magnifcent Frigatebirds at point-blank range. We also had unprecedented views of Paint-billed Crakes in the highlands of Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal. But perhaps the most signifcant bird sighting of the tour was the very close and prolonged views of Galápagos Martins at a breeding site on Isabela, allowing some excellent images to be taken of this Endangered and very rarely photographed species.

2016 [07 July] - Willy Perez

Report

...Our group's list of favorites included Paint-billed Crake, Yellow Warbler, Nazca and Blue-footed boobies, Red-billed Tropicbirds, even a Brown Pelican. Finches were popular, with the Mangrove Finch providing a nice surprise. Swallow-tailed Gulls showed what they are capable of; the ones feeding their chicks with squid on Genovesa were admired by many of us. Inquisitive mockingbirds were incredible, especially the Espanola Mockingbirds that came to catch flies and check our group for water sources (with no luck). Many of you decided that the Waved Albatrosses were most impressive...

2016 [07 July] - David E Wolf

PDF Report

...As we watched them, a Red-billed Tropicbird flew directly to the island from the sea, only to be knocked to the ground by a vicious trio of frigatebirds....

2016 [08 August] - Oscar Campbell

PDF Report

...The other really outstanding place to visit is (apparently) Fernandina and the adjacent shoreline of Isabela (most spectacular volcanology on the archipelago; this is the only place you will see Flightless Cormorant and there is, maybe, an extremely outside chance of the critically endangered Mangrove Finch) plus the biggest concentrations of Marine Iguanas and Galápagos Penguins...

Other Links

Birds of the Galapagos

Website

All photographs were taken in the Galapagos from December 19-26, 1998.

Galapagos Sea Birds

Website

The cool, oxygen-rich waters surrounding the Galapagos support an abundant marine flora and fauna which, in turns, support a variety of sea birds. The most obvious and frequently seen sea birds are members of the order Pelecaniformes. In the Galapagos, these include two species of frigate bird, three species of booby, the brown pelican, the red-billed tropicbird and the flightless cormorant…

Photographers & Artists

Gallery - Galapagos Photo Album

Gallery

A useful source of information about some of its endemics