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.