The birds of the Galapagos

Galapagos Islands Travel Blog

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Tuesday morning was devoted to the seabirds of the Galapagos Islands. Of the 140 bird species found on the islands, 89 are seabirds. Two terns (the Sooty and Brown noddy), two boobies (the Blue-footed and Red-footed), two frigate birds (Magnificent and Great), Storm Petrels, Red Billed Tropic Birds and the Waved Albatross all nest on the islands in significant numbers. The Galapagos has the world’s largest colony of Red Footed Boobies and 30% of the world’s Blue Footed Boobies. Other seabirds have settled permanently and are endemic to the Galapagos, including the Nazca Booby, the Lava Gull, the Swallow-tail Gull, the Galapagos Petrel and endemic subspecies of Audubon’s Shearwater and the Brown Pelican. The most specialised endemic is the Flightless Cormorant, which is the largest cormorant in the world at one metre tall and 4kg, and the only one which cannot fly.

Its wings have become tiny (unlike the penguin it swims with its feet and not with its wings) and the carina (keel) has become vestigial. 


We had seen seabirds throughout the Galapagos Islands, but we went to North Seymour to visit their breeding site. The entire flat island was covered in nests, mostly Blue Footed Boobies, Magnificent Frigate Birds and Great Frigate Birds, but we also saw the Nazca Booby and Red Swallow-tail Gull nests. The Blue Footed Boobies take their name from their clumsiness on land and their awkward courtship dance - “bobo” means stupid in Spanish. The Blue Footed Booby males offer sticks to females during courtship in a very similar behaviour to that of mainland Boobies, even though Blue Footed Boobies on the Galapagos no longer make nests with twigs (the Red Footed Boobies do).

We watched the juvenile Boobies practise their stick behaviour, they were not very good at it and looked puzzled as the sticks flew from their beaks. Other juveniles tried the “sky pointing” and “foot waving” courtship behaviour, in a very amusing display.


Unlike Blue Footed Boobies with a single egg, Nazca Boobies always lay two eggs. The one that hatches first pushes the other egg out of the nest. It isn’t clear why this occurs, either an evolutionary relic from times when Nazca Boobies had a rich enough habitat to raise two chicks, or an insurance policy in case one egg fails to hatch.


We watched the magnificent acrobatics of Frigate birds, able to swoop and harass other birds until they regurgitate on wing, plunging down to catch the half-digested meal before it hits the water.

This aeronautic skill is essential for Frigate birds as they have a tiny uropygial gland and can’t waterproof their feathers, so unlike other sea birds entering the water would cause them to drown. The most prominent feature of the Frigate Birds on North Seymour, however, was not their flying but the bright red throat pouch on the males. To attract a mate they inflate their scarlet pouch with air, making it nearly the size of their entire body and forcing their necks to bend backwards.


Sadly North Seymour was the end of our Galapagos voyage, so we had to make our way back to Baltra. Our final vision of the Galapagos was of the ferry terminal, where all the benches were occupied with sleeping sea lions.

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Galapagos Islands
photo by: Melboorn