The Galapagos has a small bird population which neverthelesss attracts birders and the general public for 2 reasons: their relative tameness and because almost half (28) of the 58 resident bird species are endemic. The majority, 22, of these endemic species are the land birds which are typically small and are unable to leave the islands the same way they probably arrived: freak high stormy winds which blew them the 1,000 kms from the mainland. The land birds are often quite tame and have relatively dull plumage, the main exceptions being the yellow warbler and the vermilion flycatcher. The land birds include the famous Darwin finches, a key element behind Darwin’s theory of evolution, several of whose 13 species can be readily spotted.
In addition to the resident species there are up to 30 migrant species, of which half a dozen are frequently seen and the rest are occasionally recorded.
Population of sea birds in the Galapagos
The sea birds have the least proportion of endemism, being able to fly away when needed. Of the 15 species, 5 are endemic and these include the flightless cormorant and the penguin. The Galapagos penguin is the most northerly penguin in the world, penguins otherwise being found in the colder regions of the southern hemisphere. Their existence on the equator at Galapagos is due to the cool Humboldt current which flows up the South American coast from the Antarctic to reach the Galapagos.
The island of Espanola is residence for almost the entire world’s population of the waved albatross, with its magnificent wing span of almost 10 ft (240cm). Around 12,000 pairs arrive in early April to breed and nest and leave in December. Courtship, a marvelous choreographed ritual lasting up to 20 minutes, reaches its peak in October with the new-found couple then waiting until the following year to breed.
The bird most associated with the Galapagos is the booby, whose name probably originated from Spanish sailors who thought they were like clowns (“bobos”). There are 4 species, of which 3 are residents and the blue-footed booby is the most famous.
The best time to see birds in Galapagos is in winter, from October to February, when birds are mating and there are many migrants.