The Galapagos Islands an archipelago of 14 islands and over 120 islets 1000 km off the coast of South America. The location of these volcanic islands – at the confluence of large currents – has provided unique habitats for over 1300 species making the collection of Galapagos Islands animals like no other in the world.
It’s known for being the place that inspired Charles Darwin with the thoughts that led to the formulation of the theory of evolution published in the “Origin of Species” in 1859. The Galapagos Islands is a jewel of Ecuador, making it one of the best countries to visit in South America.
- Galapagos Island Birds
- Galapagos Island Animals
Galapagos Island Birds
When Charles Darwin journeyed around the Galapagos Islands in 1835, his observation of the differences between the birds on the various islands was the spark that led him to develop his theory of evolution.
Although there are indigenous and migrant birds on the Galapagos Islands, 80% of the 56 bird species are endemic to the Galapagos.
These are some Galapagos Islands birds you need to see on your Galapagos Islands itinerary.
The Nazca Booby is one of the Galapagos Islands birds you’ll see everywhere.
The Nazca Booby (Sula granti) is a white bird with long wings, tail and bill. It has black flight feathers and a black face, like the Masked Booby.
The difference between these two booby birds are the Nazca Booby has a long orange bill while the Masked Booby’s bill is yellow.
They feed on fish in the Pacific Ocean along the coastline between Mexico and Peru while the rocky islands of the Galapagos are a breeding ground for this bird.
The Nazca Booby has a unique courtship dance where the male indicates interest by stretching his beak towards the sky and the female then does the same.
Nazca Booby nests are a ring lined with guano on rocky ledges along cliffs.
Both parents incubate the egg for 40 days and feed the babies.
The Nazca Booby practices an aggressive form of siblicide, where the first of two chicks hatched will push the other chick out of the nest unconditionally and what’s most unusual is the parents will leave the other chick to die outside the nest.
The Nazca Booby lays its eggs on Genovesa Island (August to November) and Espanola Island (November to February).
Blue Footed Booby
The Blue-Footed Booby birds are one of the Galapagos Islands birds that are amazing to see.
Blue-Footed Booby (Sula excisa) birds have a substantial and long pointed bill, long wings, brown back and are instantly recognisable among other birds by its distinctively blue feet.
The Galápagos Islands is home to around half of the population of blue-footed boobies.
The Blue-Footed Booby has an unusual courtship ritual where the male birds show off their feet (the bluer, the better) with a high-stepping strut, clacking their bills, whistling, grunting and dancing until the female decides whether to accept the advances of the male or leave.
They don’t make nests, preferring to lay their eggs on the ground.
They protect their chicks and keep them warm by covering them with their webbed feet, and both parents share the responsibility for caring for their family (usually between one and three chicks).
Facultative siblicide is common among Blue Footed Booby chicks, where the stronger chick kills the weaker one when there’s not enough food.
Mating season from June to August is an excellent time to see them on North Seymour Island as well as other islands including Espanola, Fernandina, Floreana and Santa Cruz Islands.
Red Footed Booby
The smallest of the boobies, the Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) comes in a range of colours, from white with black wings to dark brown, but the one thing they have in common is they all have red feet.
Males similarly attract females in the style of the Nazca Booby by throwing his head back until his bill points directly upwards.
If you see a Booby nest on top of shrubs or in a tree, it’s likely to belong to a Red-Footed Booby.
The male collects twigs and sticks, but both Red Footed Booby parents share the task of incubating the egg.
January to September is the time to see them on Genovesa and San Cristobal Islands, but they also live throughout the Archipelago.
Galapagos Short Eared Owl
One of the Galapagos Islands animals you will love seeing is the short-eared owl.
Endemic to the Galapagos Islands is the Galapagos short-eared owl (Asio flammeus galapagoensis), which has small ear tufts near the middle of its forehead.
This type of owl is darker and smaller than the short-eared owls on the mainland.
They lay two to four eggs once a year and nest under shrubs.
A hunter by nature, what’s unusual about this owl is, unlike most owls, the Galapagos Short Eared Owl hunts during the day.
The Galapagos short-eared owl has adapted to hunting storm petrels on Genovesa Island by pouncing on the petrels at the entrances to the lava rock tunnels where they hide.
See the Galapagos short-eared owl throughout the year on any island but they often hunt seabirds on Genovesa Island.
The Great Frigate and Magnificent Frigate
An amazing Galapagos Islands bird, the Great Frigate is interesting to observe.
Great Frigate (Fregata Minor) and Magnificent Frigate birds (Fregata magnificens) have large wingspans that enable them to glide on the thermals for days.
The main differences between the two types of frigates are the Magnificent Frigate is larger.
Also, male Great Frigates have a green sheen and the females have a red ring around the eye while the male Magnificent Frigates have a purple sheen on their upper body and the females sport a blue ring around the eye.
Frigates are instantly recognisable because they have a large red throat pouch that inflates during the breeding season.
A female is surrounded by several males that inflate their throat pouches while letting out shrill trills.
They build their nests from twigs in low shrubs, lay one egg and have the most prolonged period of parental care among birds.
The male cares for the young for up to three months, then heads off to breed again, handing over the task of caring for the baby bird for the next
The most interesting thing about both birds is their unusual ability to fly for hours without stopping to rest.
They can fly continuously for 10 days travelling for up to 3000 km without stopping, leading scientists to believe they sleep while drifting in the sky, with one eye closed, one cerebral hemisphere at a time.
The main breeding colonies for frigate birds in the Galapagos Islands are on North Seymour, Floreana, San Cristobal and Genovesa Islands.
The Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is a small penguin endemic to the Galapagos Islands and the only penguin species north of the equator
This type of penguin is a close relation of the penguins found in South America and Africa.
They can live at the equator because the Humboldt Current brings cold water from Antarctica to the Galapagos.
There are an estimated 600 breeding pairs of Galapagos penguins left, and the species is considered endangered (highly vulnerable to extinction) due to fishing, climate change and invasive species.
They choose a partner for life and breed up to three times a year, laying two to three eggs in burrows at a time.
Both parents work together to hunt for food and feed their chicks.
Galapagos penguins breed all year round and can be spotted on several islands including Isabela, Fernandina, Santiago, Bartholomew and Floreana Islands.
Galapagos Island Petrel
The Galapagos Islands petrel is one of the birds that nests on the islands.
Galapagos petrels (Pterodroma phaeopygia) are medium-sized seabirds with long wings, dark bellies, white foreheads and short hooked bills.
Petrels like to return to the same mates and nesting sites each year.
The Galapagos Island’s rocky shoreline is perfect for petrels to nest in burrows in the cliffs.
They lay two to four eggs and both the male and female share incubation duties and jointly feed their young.
You can see baby Galapagos petrels between late April and October in the highlands of Santa Cruz, Floreana, Santiago, San Cristobal and Isabela Islands.
There are several types of herons found in the Galapagos Islands.
There are several different types of herons on Galapagos Island, including the Galapagos heron (Butorides sundevalli), striated heron, Great Blue Heron and Yellow-crowned night heron.
The lava heron is a small heron that is endemic to the Galapagos Islands.
Their grey colour is the perfect camouflage against the lava rock coastlines of the Galapagos Islands.
During the breeding season, the male heron’s bill becomes black, and their legs turn bright orange.
An interesting fact about the lava heron is it’s monogamous, mates up to three times a year, breeds throughout the year and lays one to three eggs.
Parents work together to build the nest in bushes or mangroves.
The lava heron lives on all islands in Galapagos and is seen along the shore all year round.
A brown pelican resting on the rocky shoreline of the Galapagos Islands.
The brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) has a substantial pouched bill and although it’s usually brown, during breeding season adult pelicans have white and chestnut markings on their heads and necks.
Often seen flying in squadron formation, they are elegant to watch in the air.
They feed by diving into the water and scooping up water and fish into their pouches, allowing the water to drain from their bills while swallowing the fish.
Brown Pelican pairs continually raise broods of two to three chicks, but the survival rate is low as many young ones have difficulty learning to fish for themselves.
Brown Pelicans can hang around many parts of the world and nest all year-round in most of the islands in the Galapagos.
Flamingos are a beautiful bird found around the Galapagos Islands.
While not endemic to the Galapagos, there are a few hundred American flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber).
They have eye-catching fluorescent pink feathers, a flexible neck and perform an unusual courtship dance in shallow water.
The carotenoid pigment they ingest when eating algae, crustaceans and microscopic plant materials is the cause of the pink colour.
To feed, they stir up the ground by shuffling their feet then they walk along with their heads upside down and bills inverted underwater while their tongues are a piston that draws in water and the bill works as a filter.
Females lay one egg in a cone-shaped nest, while both parents take turns to incubate the egg for 30 days.
They nest from March to July and on the Galapagos Islands. They can be seen all year at Punta Cormorant lagoon on Floreana Island and Quinta Playa or Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island.
Mockingbirds were the cause of Darwin’s theory formed in the Galapagos Islands.
The mockingbird triggered Charles Darwin to develop his famous theory of evolution.
When Darwin explored the Galapagos Islands in 1835, he observed that each island had a different kind of mockingbird.
There are four species of mockingbirds only found on islands the Galapagos.
On some islands, they have curved beaks while the mockingbirds on other islands have straight beaks.
The most common one is the Galapagos mockingbird (Mimus parvulus), usually seen in forests and shrubs on the larger islands.
The Floreana mockingbird (Mimus trifasciatus) is the smallest of the four Galapagos mockingbird species and is extinct on Floreana Island, which was its original home.
There are only a few hundred Floriana mockingbirds left, and the IUCN lists the species as Endangered.
The Hood Mockingbird (Nesomimus macdonaldi) is endemic to Hood Island in the Galapagos.
Galapagos Island Animals
Galapagos Sea Lion
Of all the Galapagos Islands animals, sea lions are the most amusing to watch.
Endemic to the Galapagos Islands, the Galapagos Sea Lion (Zalophus wollebaeki) breeds throughout the islands, and even though there are around 50,000 left, the species is listed as endangered by the IUCN.
Although they are like the sea lions found along the coast of California, the Galapagos version is smaller.
The Galapagos Sea Lions can dive deeper than sea lions in other parts of the world because of the warmer waters.
They can dive to 600 m and stay below the surface for at least 10 minutes.
How to tell the difference between a sea lion and a seal?
As they are an eared seal, Sea lions have external ear pinnae and can move fast on land because they can rotate their hind flipper under their pelvic girdle.
Another way to tell the difference between a sea lion and a seal is sea lions do not have long claws.
Galapagos Sea Lions have brown or grey fur and have streamlined bodies.
Female sea lions have the incredible ability to recognise her pup’s bark within a barking cacophony of sea lions.
The mating season usually occurs between July and December but can differ from island to island. You can see sea lions all year round In Galapagos on the beaches and rocky coastline.
Galapagos Fur Seal
One of the cutest Galapagos Islands animals is the fur seal.
The Galapagos Fur Seal (Arctocephalus galapagoensis) is also endemic to the Galapagos Islands and classed as endangered by the IUCN.
Galapagos Fur Seals are also part of the eared seal family and look almost like the Galapagos sea lion, but is smaller and has a broader head, bulging eyes, protruding ears, large front flippers and a thicker coat.
Fur seals live in colonies and during the breeding season, each female seal claims a territory and stays with her newborn for a week returning to feed it between hunts.
Galapagos fur seals live most islands in the Archipelago all year round. You’ll see them everywhere in at James Bay on Santiago Island and Darwin Bay on Genovesa Island. Go between August and November to see pups.
Galapagos Land Iguanas
This Galapagos Islands animal is a throwback from the dinosaur era.
Three types of land iguanas are endemic to the Galapagos Islands – the Galapagos Land Iguana (Conolophus subcristatus), which has a yellow, white, black and brown scaly skin, the Santa Fé land iguana (Conolophus pallidus), which is endemic to Santa Fe, and the critically endangered Galapagos Pink Iguana.
Iguanas are everywhere throughout the Galapagos Islands and is a declining population that became extinct on Santiago Island (until they were re-introduced by the Galapagos National Park and Island Conservation in 2019).
They have a short head, sturdy hind legs and sharp claws but despite the sharpness of their claws, they are herbivores that feed on prickly pear leaves and fruit.
Females travel far in search of a place to nest, where she buries around 20 eggs and guards her eggs fiercely from other females.
Galapagos Land Iguanas can be seen all year on Fernandina, Isabela, Santa Cruz, South Plaza, Baltra, Santiago and North Seymour islands.
Galapagos Pink Iguana
With only 200 left in the world, the Galapagos Pink Iguana (Conolophus marthae) is a critically endangered separate species to the other land iguanas.
They look similar to the other Galapagos land iguanas but have a distinctive pink colour due to the lower levels of pigment in their skin.
The Galapagos Pink Iguana lives on the slopes of the Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island.
Galapagos Marine Iguana
Another endemic species to the Galapagos is the Galapagos Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), which is the only lizard in the world that lives and forages at sea.
Six islands have their subspecies, but the largest Galapagos Marine Iguanas are on Isabela and Fernandina Islands.
Fully grown marine iguanas are black most of the time, except for mating season when the males change colour depending on the subspecies. To see them in their different shades, here’s where to go:
Around Española and Floreana Islands – bright green and red
Santa Cruz Island – red and black
Fernandina Island – green and red
During mating season males fight fiercely to dominate harems of females, and they defend their harems from rival males.
Marine iguanas often have salt crystals on their snouts as they filter their blood at the nose and sneeze out the excess salt consumed in their diets of algae.
Marine iguanas have an internal “solar power” system, where their black scales absorb heat until they build up enough energy to swim out to sea.
When in the water, their heartbeat slows to half its usual pace to conserve energy.
Mating season for the Galapagos Marine Iguana is from January to March, and they usually hang around the coastal regions on the islands around Isabela, Fernandina, Española, Floreana and Santa Cruz Islands.
There are several types of lizards found in the Galapagos.
The Lava Lizards (Microlophus spp.) is a thriving species on the Galapagos Islands and large numbers of Lava lizards lounge around on top of lava rocks.
There are seven species of lava lizards, and they come in a variety of colours, commonly grey, green, brown and black, but males can have yellow or gold stripes while some females might have a red throat or head.
Lava lizards are everywhere on 10 of the Galapagos Islands and the only places you won’t see them are Genovesa, Darwin and Wolf Islands.
A Galapagos shark swimming near the surface next to a seabird.
Initially discovered in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, Galapagos Sharks (Carcharhinus galapagensis) are migratory sharks found around the world.
These brown-grey sharks have a large first dorsal fin and can be quite aggressive to humans even though their main diet is bony fish, fur seals and sea lions.
They are around 3m long and have 14 rows of sharp serrated teeth.
Galapagos sharks can be seen everywhere in the waters around the Galapagos Islands, especially around Wolf and Darwin Islands.
Galapagos Giant Tortoise
The last tortoise on Pinta Island, Lonesome George was around 100 years old when he died in 2012, but there are 20,000 other tortoises and 15 species of tortoises that live on the Galapagos Islands.
The Galapagos Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis spp.) came from South America over two million years ago and have two types of shells – domed and saddle-backed.
Dome-shelled tortoises have limited ability to raise their heads while saddle-backed tortoises are designed to be more supple and can stretch to reach higher plants.
They eat grass, fruit and cactus pads but spend around 16 hours a day resting.
Mating can last hours, and the males let out loud roaring noises then the female digs a hole using her back feet big enough to lay between two to 16 eggs the size of tennis balls.
The sun and warm temperature of the Galapagos Islands are perfect for incubating the eggs and baby tortoises hatch after 130 days.
Giant tortoises easy to see in the Santa Cruz highlands and Alcedo Volcano on Isabela Island but tortoise populations also live on Santiago, San Cristobal, Pinzon and Espanola Islands.
Sally Lightfoot Crab
A colourful Galapagos Islands animal, the Sally Lightfoot is light on its feet.
Sally Lightfoot crab (Grapsus grapsus) play a vital role in the ecosystem, as they keep the shore clean of organic debris by eating everything from sea lion placenta to ticks off marine iguanas.
They are incredibly agile and can run in four directions, up vertical inclines and jump from rock to rock.
Female Sally Lightfoot crabs carry their eggs in their stomachs until they hatch into the water to allow the larvae to swim to deeper waters, where they consume phytoplankton.
The larvae metamorphose into juvenile crabs and swim to shore, where the cycle continues to perpetuate.
These crabs are a common sight on most beaches and rock pools on all the islands.
Love animals? You will love these posts:
- Daintree Rainforest Animals
- Amazing Canadian Wildlife Experiences
- Incredible Tasmanian Animals and Where To See Them