Galapagos Birds

The Galapagos bird-life is world renown for its finches -- the tiny little birds that played such an important role in Darwin's theory of Natural Selection. But bird-life on the islands goes far beyond its famous finches. This unique habitat supplies home for a wide variety of species, from colorful flamingo and comical blue-footed boobies, to showy frigatebirds and bizzare cormorants. The distinct features of the birds make for easy identification for the novice birder -- while the savvy will be pleased to spot the rare and treasured species found only in the Galapagos Islands. Galapagos travel offers amazing wildlife viewing opportunities. The following tables simply offer a sample of the birds found on the Islands.

Key to species' class:


  • Endemic = Found only in the Galapagos Islands
  • Endemic Sub-species = Species exists in other parts of the world, but no interbreeding with the Galapagos population. The Galapagos population may evolve into a distinct species
  • Resident = Found on the Galapagos Islands and elsewhere in the world. Breeds on the islands and elsewhere. Arrived in the Islands naturally.
  • Visitor = Frequently visits the Islands, specifically during Nov through March. Does not breed in the Galapagos.

Sea Birds

SpeciesIslands Best ViewedClassCharacteristics
Galapagos Penguin Fernandina, Isabela, Santiago, BartolomeEndemicOne of the world's smallest penguins. Only penguin to breed entirely within the tropics.
Waved Albatross EspanolaEndemicBest seen during the months of Aprthrough Dec. Breeds on the cliffs of Espanola. Courtship includes a showy dance.
Galapagos Storm PetrelGenovesa, San CristobalEndemicAlso known as Wedge-rumped Storm Petral. Distinguished by large white rump and tail.
Red-billed TropicbirdGenovesa, South PlazaResidentLook for this seabird's brilliant red bill and long white tail feathers - reaching up to 20 inches
Brown PelicanCentral IslandsEndemic Sub-speciesA large brown bird. Catches food by diving and scooping small fish, crustaceans and water in its distinctive large beak.
Blue-footed BoobyEspanola, San Cristobal, North SeymourEndemic Sub-speciesBrown wings, white belly and bright blue feet. Feeds mainly on fish. Groups of diving Boobies are an impressive site in the Islands.
Masked or Nazca BoobyEspanola, San Cristobal, GenovesaEndemic Sub-speciesA brilliant white bird, with black wing tips and a black "masked" face. Largest of the Islands' Boobies.
Red-footed BoobySan Cristobal, Genovesa, Wolf, DarwinEndemic Sub-speciesSmallest of the three Boobies, with red webbed feet. Perches and nests in trees.
Flightless CormorantFernandina, Isabela EndemicFlightless bird, whose wings appear to serve no obvious purpose. An aquatic courtship ritual includes a unique 'snake-necking'
Magnificent FrigatebirdNorth Seymour, Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal, GenovesaEndemic Sub-speciesImpressive, large birds with a wingspan up to 8 feet. Males are famous for their red goular, which they display during breeding season.
Great FrigatebirdEspanola, North Seymour, Genovesa, San Cristobal, FernandinaResidentVery similar appearance to the Magnificent. The Giant male has a green sheen to its back feathers; the Magnificent's back feathers have a purplish hue.
Swallow-tailed GullGenovesa, South PlazaEndemic The world's only nocturnal gull. Distinguished by their black head, red ring around the eye and a black beak with a gray tip.
Lava Gull Santa Cruz, Isabela, Genovesa, South Plaza EndemicA nest robber and scavenger. This gull has a dark gray body and black wings.
Brown NoddySouth Plaza, Santa Cruz, Rabida, Isabela, BartolomeEndemic Sub-speciesAlso called a Common Noddy. Has a comedic trait of sitting on the heads of pelicans while they fish, hoping to snag some leftovers.

Land Birds

SpeciesIslands Best ViewedClassCharacteristics
Galapagos HawkSouth Plaza, Espanola, Fernandina, Santa FeEndemicBrown hawk with sharply hooked yellow beak and yellow legs. Juveniles are known to approach people, even land on them.
OspreySanta Cruz, San Cristobal, IsabelaVisitorBest sightings are near mangrove lagoons. Mainly white body and head, with dark brown wings. Also known as Fish Eagle.
Barn OwlSanta Cruz, San Cristobal, IsabelaEndemic Sub-speciesDistinctive heart-shaped face. Nests in lava holes or other volanic formations.
Galapagos DoveMain Islands EndemicSmall rust-colored dove with bright red legs. Has next to no fear of humans. Nests on the ground.
Galapagos RailHighlands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, IsabelaEndemic While not flightless, this birds is a reluctant flyer, which makes it vulnerable to predators. Head and chest are a navy blue, with dark brown back and wings.
Belted KingfisherLagoons on Isabela, San CristobalVisitorOnly kingfisher found in the Islands. Feeds by plunge-diving. Larger bird, roughly a foot long.
Dark-billed CuckooSanta Cruz, Charles Darwin Research StationResidentFeeds on insets in densley vegetated regions. Dark in color with black cap. Belly and neck are light and has a long brown tail.
Galapagos MockingbirdSanta Cruz, South Plaza, Santiago, Santa Fe, Isabela, Fernandina, Genovesa, Darwin, WolfEndemicHas a unique family unit where the juveniles help feed the hatchlings. Slender birds with a black sloping beak. Nests in trees and cacti.
Galapagos FlycatcherMain Islands - except GenovesaEndemicSmall light-brown bird with dusty colored chest. Feeds on insects, and is known to approach people.
Yellow WarblerWidespreadEndemic Sub-speciesSmall, bright yellow bird. Males have a rust-colored streak on the crown. Both parents are responsible for feeding the young.

Coastal Birds

SpeciesIslands Best ViewedClassCharacteristics
Great Blue HeronMain IslandsResidentStanding at 3 feet tall, this heron has a wingspan of nearly 6 feet. Males and females share the task of incubation and feeding.
Great EgretSanta Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, Santiago, FloreanaResidentA large all-white bird with a long yellow beak. Also referred to as the Common Egret.
Lava HeronWidespreadEndemicSmall, solid gray heron. Favorite food includes Sally Lightfoot crabs.
Yellow-crowned Night HeronWidespread - except Darwin & WolfEndemic Sub-species Distinctive black head with a tan crown and prominant white stripes along the cheeks. Often seen balancing on one leg.
Greater FlamingoIsabela, Santa Cruz, Floreana, Rabida, SantiagoResidentLarge pink bird with a long neck and legs. Population on the islands hovers around 500. Can live up to 30 years.
American OystercatcherWidespreadEndemic Sub-speciesShorebird. Has a long and brilliant red beak. Black head and wings. White belly and chest.
Greater YellowlegsWidespreadVisitorA larger wader - roughly a foot tall. Speckled brown and white with long yellow legs and a sharp, thin beak.
Least SandpiperWidespread - Dec through MarchVisitorMost common sandpiper on the Islands. During breeding, have a redish cap. Legs are yellow and has a sharp black bill.

Finches

SpeciesIslands Best ViewedClassCharacteristics
Large Ground FinchWidespreadEndemicA large finch with a very large beak. Males are mainly black. Females are grey-brown with pale streaks on the breast.
Medium Ground FinchWidespreadEndemicVery similar plumage to the Large Ground. Commonly feeds in groups and is seen pecking ectoparasites off iguanas.
Small Ground FinchWidespreadEndemic Smaller size and stubby beak distinguish it from the Medium Ground.
Sharp-beaked Ground Finch Highlands of Santiago, Fernandina, PintaEndemicCan be found feeding on bird lice from Booby nests. Will also roll Booby eggs from the nest and eat the contents.
Cactus Ground FinchWidespreadEndemic Nests in Opuntia cactus. Has a long, sloping beak. Feeds on the Opuntia flowers.
Large Cactus Ground FinchEspanola, Genovesa, Darwin, Wolf EndemicLarger finch with a powerful beak. Not as specialized in feeding on the Opuntia cactus as its small sister species.
Vegetarian FinchWidespreadEndemicA large finch. Males have a dark head and wings, with a light belly. Females are brown with spotted, light belly.
Large Tree FinchWidespread - humid areas EndemicMales has black head and neck - rest of bird is a grey/brown. Females are grey/brown with pale bellies. Beak looks almost parrot-like with a curved top and bottom.
Medium Tree FinchFloreanaEndemicFound only in the humid region of Floreana. Its beak is pointer than the Larger Tree Finch.
Small Tree FinchWidespreadEndemic Smalles of the Tree Finches - adults are only 4 inches. Found in humid regions.
Woodpecker FinchWidespreadEndemicFamous for using a tool, such as twig, to retrieve larva from rotted wood. During breeding, their beak turns black.
Mangrove FinchMangroves of Southern IsabelaEndemic The most endangered bird species in the Galapagos. Population is a mere 40-50 pairs.
Warbler FinchWidespreadEndemicSmallest of the finches. While smaller and less vibrant in color, is easily mistaken for the yellow warbler.