Land Birds


Because Galapagos visitors spend so much time on and around the water, the sea and shore birds typically receive more attention than the land birds. The sea birds tend to be bigger, more obvious, can be observed more easily, and display lots of different types of behaviors. Land birds, on the other hand, are smaller, drabber, and more secretive. It takes more effort, more patience, and more understanding to observe them. Some birds, like the cuckoo and the rail have small populations and tend to be cryptic in their habits. There are 29 recognized species of land birds living in the Galapagos and Darwin came close to seeing them all. Of course he didn't visit all of the islands and didn't see everything. Darwin succinctly cataloged the resident land birds in the "Voyage of the Beagle:"

Of land-birds I obtained twenty-six kinds, all peculiar to the group and found nowhere else, with the exception of one lark-like finch from North America (Dolichonyx oryzivorous*), which ranges on that continent as far north as 54 degrees,and generally frequents marshes. The other twenty-five birds consist, firstly, of a hawk, curiously intermediate in structure between a Buzzard and the American group of carrion-feeding Polybori; and with these latter birds it agrees most closely in every habit and even tone of voice. Secondly, there are two owls, representing the short-eared and barn owls of Europe. Thirdly, a wren, three tyrant-flycatchers (two of them species of Pyrocephalus, one or both of which would be ranked by some ornithologists as only varieties), and a dove -- all analogous to but distinct from, american species. fourthly, a swallow, which though differing from the Progene purpurea of both Americas, only in being rather duller coloured, smaller, and slenderer, is considered by Mr. gould as specifically disinct. Fifthly, there are three species of mocking-thrush -- a form highly characteristic of America. The remaining land-birds form a most singular group of finches, related to each other in the structure of their beaks, short tails, form of body, and plumage. There are thirteen species, which Mr. Gould has divided into four sub-groups. All these species are peculiar to this archipelago....

*This is a bobolink, which is a regular visitor and fairly common from October to December. Darwin's first Galapagos entry in his diary is 15 September and his last is 20 October.

In 15 visits to the Galapagos, I have seen the cuckoo twice, both in quick fly-bys with no chance to observe, and the barn owl twice. While driving in the highlands, I momentarily saw a rail dart across the road and disappear in the underbrush. I have never seen a martin.Nevertheless, the land birds are supremely important in understanding the development of Darwin's theory of evolution. According to the "Voyage" and his subsequent writings, the three groups of animals that most intrigued and influenced Darwin were the tortoises, the mockingbirds (Darwin's "mocking-thrushes"), and the finches.

The table below lists the birds according to whether they are endemic (found only in Galapagos) or resident (maintain breeding populations but are found in other parts of the world). The ratio of endemic to resident birds is staggering. This ratio becomes even more pronounced when one takes into account the fact that many of the resident species are endemic subspecies (indicated by "*"). Perhaps the only difference between the residents and the endemics is that the endemics were in the Galapagos longer. With 13 and 4 species, respectively, the finches and mockingbirds may represent early Galapagos colonizations. The paint-billed crake, on the other hand, was only discovered in 1953 and the smooth-billed ani wasn't sighted until the 1960's. These likely represent very recent colonizations. Indeed, it is suspected that the ani was actually introduced. Unlike typical Galapagos birds, it is very shy and difficult to approach.

Use the table to navigate through the Land Birds pages of this web site.


Resident Species

Dark-billed Cuckoo

Barn Owl

Short-eared Owl*

Vermillion Flycatcher*

Yellow Warbler*

Paint-billed Crake

Smooth-billed Ani

  Endemic Species

Galapagos Dove

Large-billed Flycatcher

Galapagos Hawk


Galapagos Mockingbird

Hood Mockingbird

Chatham Mockingbird

Charles Mockingbird

Galapagos Rail

Galapgos Martin

Darwin's Finches:

Small Ground Finch

Medium Ground Finch

Large Ground Finch

Cactus Ground Finch

Large Cactus Ground Finch

Sharp-beaked Ground Finch

Vegetarian Finch

Small Tree Finch

Medium Tree Finch

Large Tree Finch

Woodpecker Finch

Mangrove Finch

Warbler Finch




    for more info, contact Dr. Robert Rothman: