Galápagos Islands

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

he 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 ParkThe 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 GalapagosThe 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.

Contributors
  • Jill Tardivel

    | jill@tardivel.net

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 178

    As at May 2018
Endemics
  • Number of endemics: 32

    Galápagos (Lava) Heron Butorides sundevalli, Galápagos (Flightless) Cormorant Phalacrocorax harrisi, Galápagos Hawk Buteo galapagoensis, Galapagos (Crake) Rail Laterallus spilonota, Galápagos Dove Zenaida galapagoensis, Lava Gull Leucophaeus fuliginosus, Galápagos Penguin Spheniscus mendiculus, Galápagos Shearwater Puffinus subalaris, Galápagos Flycatcher Myiarchus magnirostris, Galápagos Martin Progne modesta, Galápagos Mockingbird Mimus parvulus, Floreana Mockingbird Mimus trifasciatus, Española Mockingbird Mimus macdonaldi, San Cristóbal Mockingbird Mimus melanotis, Large Ground-finch Geospiza magnirostris, Medium Ground-finch Geospiza fortis, Small Ground-finch Geospiza fuliginosa, Sharp-beaked Ground-finch Geospiza difficilis, Vampire Ground-finch Geospiza septentrionalis, Genovesa Ground-finch Geospiza acutirostris, Española Ground-finch Geospiza conirostris, Common Cactus-finch Geospiza scandens, Española Cactus-finch Geospiza conirostris, Genovesa Cactus-finch Geospiza propinqua, Vegetarian Finch Platyspiza crassirostris, Large Tree Finch Camarhynchus psittacula, Medium Tree Finch Camarhynchus pauper, Small Tree Finch Camarhynchus parvulus, Woodpecker Finch Camarhynchus pallidus, Mangrove Finch Camarhynchus heliobates, Green Warbler-finch Certhidea olivacea, Grey Warbler-finch erthidea fusca
Checklist

  • iGoTerra Checklist

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

  • A Guide to the Birds of the Galapagos

    | By Isabel Castro & Antonia Phillips | Christopher Helm | 1996 | Paperback | 144 pages, 32 colour plates, line illustrations, 1 map | ISBN: 9780713639162 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Birds, Mammals & Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands

    | By Andy Swash & Rob Still | Christopher Helm | 2005 | Paperback | 168 pages, 53 colour plates (photos and illustrations) | ISBN: 9780713675511 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Galapagos Islands Bird Guide (Multilingual)

    | By Robert Dean | Rainforest Publications | 2017 | Unbound | 14 pages, colour illustrations | ISBN: 9780997901825 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Pocket Photo Guide to the Birds of Ecuador and Galapagos

    | By Clive Byers | Bloomsbury Publishing | 2017 | Paperback | 144 pages, colour photos | ISBN: 9781472937902 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Galapagos Hawk / El Gavilán de Galápagos

    | By Tjitte de Vries | Tundra Ediciones | 2015 | Paperback | 209 pages, colour & b/w photos, colour & b/w illustrations | ISBN: 9788494404894 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Wildlife of the Galápagos

    | By Julian Fitter, Daniel Fitter, David Hosking & Martin B Withers | William Collins (Harper Collins imprint) | 2016 | Paperback | 288 pages, 650+ colour photos, colour illustrations and colour maps | ISBN: 9780008156732 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Guides & Tour Operators


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  • 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!
  • 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!
  • 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…
  • 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.
Trip Reports


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  • 2010 [11 November] - Andrés Vásquez

    PDF 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…
  • 2012 [11 November] - Andrés Vásquez

    PDF Report
    …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 [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 [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 [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 [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 ofEspanola 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 [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 [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 [08 August] - Oscar Campbell

    PDF Report
    ...The other really outstanding place to visit is (apparently) Fernandina and the adjacent shoreline of Isabela (mostspectacular volcanology on the archipelago; this is the only place you will see Flightless Cormorant and there is, maybe, anextremely outside chance of the critically endangered Mangrove Finch) plus the biggest concentrations of Marine Iguanas and Galápagos Penguins...
  • 2017 [06 June] - Jesse Fagan

    Report
    ...Several really stand out for me: watching clacking, clucking, waddling, and dancing Waved Albatrosses strengthen their pair ponds, and there was the very friendly Galapagos Penguin on Black Beach...
  • 2017 [07 July] - Willy Perez

    Report
    Every visit to the "Enchanted Islands" is different, but the special thing about Galapagos is that you will see unique wildlife up close to you, (sometimes too close!) ... or in the most unexpected places! The sites that we visited were superb for the birds that we needed, and the Nemo III was a great moving home from which to see the islands, and have a great adventure. The Nemo always got us where we wanted to be. The crew was great, and the food was tasty and delicious. And, I almost forgot — what about the decorations for each meal?
  • 2017 [11 November] - Bob Meinke

    PDF Report
    ...Our first Galápagos Flycatchers were spotted on this walk, as well. We finally reached a small bay that was wells tocked with some very relaxed California Sea Lions (actually a subspecies that often goes by Galápagos Sea Lion), where we also found the endemic Lava Gull, the rarest species of gull in the world...
  • 2018 [02 February] - Susan & Burt Mittelstadt

    PDF Report
    Species list - The week began with a fish dinner on Saturday night, followed by Amy’s birthday cake at Puembo Birding Gardens.
  • 2018 [03 March] - Dodie Logue

    PDF Report
    Species list
  • 2018 [08 August] - George Wagner

    PDF Report
    Visiting the Galapagos is on very birder’s and every naturalist’s wish list. It has been so for me for decades, especially recently so as it held my last penguin species...
  • 2018 [11 November] - Pat Lueders

    PDF Report
    ...On this island walk we found both Land and Marine Iguanas and occasional hybrids of the two. Beach masters protected their Sea Lion herds, Swallow-tailed Gulls were in pairs preparing to nest, and Red-billed Tropicbirds circled the shore. Our guides were very excited to find their first Kelp Gull of the season, an early arrival....
  • 2019 [02 February] - Susan & Burt Mittelstadt

    PDF Report
    We climbed the Prince Philip steps to see the vast population of birds that make this remote isle famous. The target bird was the Short-eared Owl. Bobbies, gulls, frigates, doves, mockingbirds, there were a lot of birds, both species and numbers. As we walked, we learned about the Nazca Boobies’ practice of NAV (nonparental visitor aggression)
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

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