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.

  • Jill Tardivel


Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 178

    As at May 2018
  • 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

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Useful Reading

  • A Guide to the Birds of the Galapagos

    By Isabel Castro & Antonia Phillips | Christopher Helm | 1996 | Paperback | 144 pages, 32 col plates, line illus, 1 map | ISBN: 0713639164 Buy this book from
  • 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: 0713675519 Buy this book from
  • Galapagos Islands Bird Guide (Multilingual)

    By Robert Dean | Rainforest Publications | 2017 | Unbound | 14 pages, colour illustrations | ISBN: 9780997901825 Buy this book from
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
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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  • 2008 [08 August] - Scott Olmstead

    PDF 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

    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

    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)…
  • 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] - Andy Swash

    PDF Report
    …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…
  • 2013 [06 June] - Willy Perez

    …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

    …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

    PDF Report
    …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 [08 August] - Megan Crewe with Peter Freire

    …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 [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 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

    ...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 [07 July] - Michael O'Brien

    Report PDF
    ... 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 [11 November] - Charles Harper - North-east Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

    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] - 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 [07 July] - Willy Perez

    ...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

    ...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] - Michael O'Brien

    PDF Report
    Upon arrival in Baltra, we were met by our first taste of Galápagos abundance: both Land and Marine iguanas, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Small Ground-Finches, Blue-footed Boobies, Brown Noddies, Elliott’s Storm-Petrels—all while we were standing at the dock waiting for our first panga ride to the ship!
  • 2017 [07 July] - Willy Perez

    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
Other Links
  • Birds of the Galapagos

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

    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

    A useful source of information about some of its endemics

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