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The Galapagos Islands are a haven for bird lovers. The cluster of islands off the coast of Ecuador is home to over 180 species of birds. Of those species, there are 56 native birds, of which 45 are endemic species (only found on the islands) and 11 are indigenous (native to the Galapagos but found elsewhere as well). This makes it an incredibly unique opportunity to catch a glimpse of some of the most beautiful birds in the world in their natural habitat.

On any trip to the islands, you’ll notice an incredible variety of birds, including land, shore, and sea birds. While many have heard of the most famous Galapagos birds like penguins and blue-footed boobies, there are plenty of other fascinating species that you’ll want to keep an eye out for.

If you’re planning a trip to the islands off the coast of Ecuador, this is a breakdown of the most common birds of the Galapagos Islands. 

birds of galapagos

Birds of Galapagos

Organized by different species, here’s a look at the most incredible Galapagos birds that you’ll likely come across. Depending on the islands you decide to visit, you’ll have a chance to see these bird species at different times of the year.

Penguins

Galapagos penguin

Conservation Status: Endangered
Size: 49-53cm in length as an adult
Habitat: The only penguin that lives at or above the equator, the Galapagos penguins live in the coastal area of the western islands, especially Fernandina and Isabela.

One of the most unique birds on the Galapagos Islands, the Galapagos penguin (spheniscus mendiculus) is endemic to the islands and is one of the smallest penguins in the world. 

Quite remarkably, they have somehow adapted to surviving in the warmer climates of the Galapagos waters, at and above the equator. This makes the adorable birds a must-see when visiting these islands.

Galapagos penguins on the rocks on Isabela Island
Galapagos penguins on the rocks on Isabela Island
penguins, Galapagos Islands, birds of galapagos
Penguins and boobies on the rock around Urbina Bay

Gulls

Swallow-tailed gull

Conservation Status: Least concern 
Size: They can grow to between 50-57cm, but weigh less than a kilogram
Habitat: The swallow-tailed gulls are sea birds, that prefer steep, rocky cliffs, and the warmer waters found on the eastern side of the Galapagos archipelago

The swallow-tailed gull (Creagrus furcatus) is endemic to the Galapagos and one of the only nocturnal gulls in the world. They feed on squid and fish during the night, sometimes a long way from the land if necessary. 

They tend to nest on the cliff areas of most islands in the Galapagos, although most commonly on the warmer eastern side. The nocturnal gull can be recognized by a bright orange/red ring around each eye, and a black beak with a grey point.

Creagrus furcatus or Swallow Tailed Gull. Photo credits: suecan1, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Lava gull

Conservation Status: Vulnerable 
Size: Between 53-55cm in length
Habitat: They are mostly found on Santa Cruz, Genovesa, Isabela, and San Cristobal Islands and prefer to nest amongst coastal vegetation

Lava gulls (leucophaeus fuliginosus) are an endemic species on the Galapagos Islands. They are considered to be the rarest gulls in the world. They are found predominantly on four islands, Santa Cruz, Genovesa, San Cristobal, and Isabela. But, they can also be spotted across the archipelago. 

They’re unique from other birds in that they do not form large breeding colonies and are usually observed in single pairs.

Lava Gull, Birds of Galapagos

Hawks

Galapagos hawk

Conservation Status: Vulnerable with decreasing numbers
Size: Up to 56cm tall and weighs less than a kilogram, but their wingspan can be up to 120cm
Habitat: The Galapagos hawk can be found on the archipelago’s main islands. Their nests tend to be low in trees, on lava ledges or on the ground, away from human activity.

Galapagos hawks (buteo galapagoensis) are one of the main predators on the islands, sitting at the top of the food chain amongst land birds. These birds of prey are skilled hunters, and particularly target baby iguanas, tortoises and lava lizards, often in packs of two or three. 

They occasionally even hunt for seabird eggs, making them a threat to other bird species on the remote islands. They are closely related to North America’s red-backed and white-tailed hawks.

Boobies

Blue footed boobies

Conservation Status: Population stable – least concern status
Size: On average 80cm long and weighing around 1.5kg
Habitat: A type of sea bird, the blue footed booby are confined to marine habitats, but often spend time on the coast and shoreline. You can find blue footed boobies right across the islands of the Galapagos.

The blue-footed booby (sula nebouxii) is one of the most popular birds in the Galapagos Islands that people want to see when they visit the region. The name comes from the Spanish word, bobo, meaning clown, which matches the bird’s quirky dancing and bright coloured feet. 

With very few natural predators, the blue footed boobies tend to spend plenty of time on land.

blue footed bird galapagos
Blue footed booby on Santa Cruz in the Galapagos
Blue footed booby on Santa Cruz in the Galapagos
Blue footed booby on Santa Cruz in the Galapagos

Red-footed boobies

Conservation Status: Least concern status
Size: Can be around 70cm long and weigh up to a maximum of 1kg
Habitat: Throughout the tropical and subtropical parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. 

The red-footed booby (sula sula) is the smallest of all the different species of booby birds. As the name suggests they have distinctive red feet and a pale blue bill, but they do come in a variety of body colours, including brown, white and black. 

Red-footed boobies are found in large breeding colonies generally between late January and September, laying eggs only once every 15 months.

Nazca boobies

Conservation Status: Population decreasing – least concern status
Size: On average they grow 75-90cm in height and weigh around 1.3-2.3kg
Habitat: Despite being a type of sea bird species, Nazca boobies are usually found on the coast and shoreline of the eastern Pacific coastline

The Nazca booby (sula granti) is the larger of the three species of boobies found on the Galapagos. They catch small fish by diving into the water from heights of up to 30 metres along the coastline. Nazca boobies lay their eggs in two’s unlike other similar species, but it’s not uncommon for them to lose one of their chicks.

Albatrosses

Waved albatross / Galapagos albatross 

Conservation Status: Critically endangered – population decreasing
Size: They can grow to 80-90cm with a wingspan of up to 2.5 metres and weigh around 3.5kg on average
Habitat: The waved albatross only lives on Española Island in the Galapagos, although they do forage across the waters of Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador.

As the largest bird in the Galápagos Islands, the waved albatross (phoebastria irrorata) can have a wingspan of up to 2.5 metres. However, this incredible marine bird can only be seen from April to December, when they arrive back from feeding to nest on land. 

In the non-breeding season, the migratory species can fly across South America looking for food, but will always return to Espanola Island to nest and breed.

Galapagos albatross feeding its chick.

Petrels

Galapagos petrel

Conservation Status: Critically endangered

Size: They grow to around 43cm in length with a wingspan of 90cm

Habitat: They spend a lot of time out at sea, but can be found in the humid highlands of Santa Cruz, Floreana, Santiago, San Cristobal and Isabela islands during the breeding season.

One of the six main endemic Galapagos sea birds on the islands, the Galapagos petrel (pterodroma phaeopygia) is a medium-sized sea bird. They can fly as far away as Central America and northern South America looking for food, which is mostly squid and fish. 

Galapagos petrels are most at risk from other birds of prey and invasive species like rats and feral cats and dogs. 

Galapagos petrel
Galapagos petrel

Cormorants

Flightless cormorant

Conservation Status: Vulnerable – population low but stable
Size: They grow up to 100cm tall and 5kg in weight
Habitat: They are endemic to Fernandina and Isabela Island, preferring the colder water. Flightless cormorants nest in sheltered areas, within around 100m from the shoreline.

Arguably the most unusual Galapagos bird, the flightless cormorant (phalacrocorax harrisi) originally arrived in the Galapagos Islands by flying, but has since lost the ability to actually fly. It’s the only known cormorant to have lost the ability to fly through adaptation. 

The Galapagos cormorant is very capable at swimming though, as they move with currents and tides to catch food, including eels, fish and octopus. The Galapagos flightless cormorant can be identified by its brown body and bright blue eyes.

flightless cormorants 
Flightless cormorant fishing for octopus
Flightless cormorant
Flightless cormorant

Flamingos

Galapagos flamingos

Conservation Status: Least concern
Size: Between 120-145cm in height and 2.2kg and 2.8kg in weight
Habitat: Tropical and subtropical areas, particularly in the saltwater lagoons hidden in the lava fields near the coastlines of the Galapagos islands.

Amongst the variety of Galapagos Island birds, a lot of people don’t expect to see flamingos. But they can be hard to find. The archipelago is home to a small population of the American flamingo or sometimes referred to as the Caribbean flamingo (phoenicopterus ruber) with their bright pink feathers. 

However, the specific population of Galapagos flamingos are slightly smaller than their Caribbean counterparts and are hidden in the lagoons on the coast, making it difficult to reach them closely.

Owls

Galapagos short-eared owl

Conservation Status: Least concern
Size: They grow on average to 40cm tall and weigh around 3km, with a 90cm wingspan
Habitat: Open areas of grassland and lava rock 

The Galapagos short-eared owl (asio flammeus galapagoensis) is an endemic subspecies of the common short-eared owl which is found on every continent except Antarctica. While most owls hunt at night, the Galapagos short-eared owl has learnt to hunt during the day as well, so as not to clash with the Galapagos hawk, so you can see them active at any hour.

Like the few other Galapagos birds of prey, they hunt rats, juvenile marine iguanas, and other birds, including booby species.

Doves

Galapagos dove

Conservation Status: Least concern but near threatened
Size: They are small, growing to just 20cm on average and weighing less than 100g
Habitat: Found in arid zones across the islands

The Galapagos dove (zenaida galapagoensis) can be recognised by its red feet, striking blue eye ring, and speckled golden-brown plumage. They are fairly common birds and extremely tame, so it’s easy to get a nice snap of them during your time on the Galapagos Islands.

galapagos dove
A pair of Galapagos doves

Mockingbirds

Galapagos mockingbird

Conservation Status: Least concern – population stable
Size: Similar to the dove, they’re very small growing to just 25cm and weighing just 50g
Habitat: Found across most Galapagos Islands, except San Cristobal, Floreana and Española

The Galapagos mockingbird (mimus parvulus) is the most common of the four species of mockingbirds found on the islands. They are friendly birds and generally found around the islands, making them very common sightings for bird watchers. 

The Galapagos mockingbird is most famous for helping confirm Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection, along with the Galapagos finches. The mockingbird also helps other animals like the marine iguanas, who recognize their warning call to seek shelter from predators.

Galapagos Mocking Bird

Flycatchers

Galapagos flycatcher

Conservation Status: Least concern
Size: A tiny bird at just 15cm in length 
Habitat: Found in the tropical forests of the main islands

The Galapagos flycatcher (myiarchus magnirostris) is the largest flycatcher on the islands, despite being a small bird. They are characterized by a grey-brown breast and throat, while a male has a yellow belly and a female has a beige belly.

Galapagos flycatcher
Galapagos flycatcher

Frigatebirds

Magnificent frigate bird

Conservation Status: Least concern
Size: The frigate bird can be around 1.2kg with a huge wingspan of up to 2.4m
Habitat: Main breeding colonies are found on North Seymour, Floreana, San Cristobal and Genovesa, especially amongst mangrove forests.

The magnificent frigate bird (fregata magnificens) is one of two frigatebirds on the islands and is a very unique bird to see. They have several nicknames, including pirate birds and the condor of the oceans, as Charles Darwin called them.

They have a unique body shape, with the largest wingspan to body weight ratio of any bird in the world. The males are quite striking, being all black with a large red gular, which is inflated during the breeding season to attract females.

Darwin’s Finches

Conservation Status: Vulnerable
Size: They grow just to 20cm maximum and up to 40 grams
Habitat: Can be seen all year round and across all the islands, depending on the sub-species

Out of the birds on Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin finches (geospizinae subfamily) are most famous for their contribution to evolutionary history. They are a collective of 13 species of finches found on the islands. 

Each species adapted over time and evolved to have different beaks which are suited to different food. These finches on the Galapagos Islands helped Darwin understand evolution and natural selection. This makes them some of the most sought-after for bird watchers who make the trip to the South American islands.

darwin birds galapagos
Darwin Finch

Herons

Lava heron / Galapagos heron

Conservation Status: Least concern
Size: The average size is around 35cm and 2kg in weight with a wingspan of 60cm
Habitat: The lava heron is commonly found on all islands in Galapagos, particularly on the shoreline.

The lava heron or otherwise known as the Galapagos heron (butorides sundevalli). It is one of the endemic shore birds found on the islands. The small birds live and nest along the lava rock coastlines, saltwater lagoons, and mangrove forests across most of the islands. 

How to see Galapagos birds

For your best chance to see birds in Galapagos, you can join special bird watching and naturalist tours. This way you can learn about how many species are on the Galapagos Islands and about all the different traits and breeding patterns of the land birds compared to sea birds. 

However, many Galapagos birds can also be seen just as you travel around the islands and spend time on and around the beaches. Some of the most common birds like the finches, mockingbirds, and booby species, can be spotted without too much effort. If you’re a keen bird watcher though, a tour is worthwhile with knowledgeable guides to lead you to known spots.

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