Galapagos wildlife encounters

Galapagos wildlife – travel to a magical world :

The Galapagos Islands are a magical world, and one of the reasons it is so magical is because we come across so much approachable wildlife. The locals even say that the sharks are “friendly”.

Darwin’s evolutionary theory argues a natural selection and automatic evolution causing life experience beneficial mutation through the modification of descents. That is a natural evolution over time in order to adapt to their environment. In short, something that particularly appears within the Galapagos wildlife species.

I have made a list of some of the wonderful Galapagos wildlife I was able to see and capture on camera during my time there.

Birds

  • Galapagos mockingbird – Sinsonte de Galápagos / Cucube

Galapagos Mockingbird

The Galapagos mockingbird is endemic to the Galapagos islands. It is one of the original species which inspired Charles Darwin in his research. Different subspecies can be found on different islands. Galapagos mockingbirds are social birds. They have an omnivorous diet and forage anthropods, caterpillars,  seabird eggs, lava lizards, fruit, cacti, and various plants. You can also often see them running on the ground.

  • Yellow warbler – Reinita de Manglar

Yellow warbler

My most colorful Galapagos wildlife encounter is without a doubt the yellow warbler. This bird nests on vertical forks in trees. They also forage in trees, bushes, mangrove for insects mostly found on branches and leaves… The yellow warbler is widespread in the northern hemisphere and throughout the Galapagos archipelago.

  • Nasca booby – Alcatraz de Nazca

A few Nasca Boobies out at sea near Isabella Island

Nasca boobies are the largest of the boobies and thought to be the most elegant of them. Moreover, Nasca boobies have their own mating ritual dance which consists in pointing their beak to the sky. They nest on the cliffs and steep slopes, the female lays two eggs. The older chick performs siblicide: it pushes the weaker chick out of the nest.

  • Blue-footed booby – Piquero Pata Azules

Blue footed booby & soon to be chick
Blue-footed booby & soon to be chick

The beauty of the male blue-footed booby is determined by how blue his feet are. There is a ritual dance during the mating season, it is a technique to seduce the female which will be enticed by how bright the males feet are and how much she enjoys his dance. Females have darker feet and are larger than the males.

  • Red-footed booby – Piquero Patirrojo

San Cristobal – Red-footed booby

Red-footed boobies reside perching on the Galapagos flora and construct their nest there. They only lay one egg at a time. The red-footed boobies fish far out at sea to avoid competition with the blue-footed boobies and can travel as far as 93 miles.

  • Juvenile Great Frigate – Rabihorcado Grande

Great frigate

The Greater frigate is a graceful Galapagos wildlife encounter. They have the biggest wings in proportion to their body size which allows them to glide with grace. The great frigate does not have a waterproof feather coat, so while hunting for fish they usually stay above the water and catch their prey close to the surface. The male frigates have a red pouch which is more intense during the mating season.

  • Galapagos dove – Zenaida de Galápagos

Galapagos dove foraging on Isabella island.
Isabella island – Galapagos dove foraging

The Galapagos dove was part of my Galapagos wildlife encounters and is one of the endemic species of the archipelago. As seen in this picture that was taken on Isabella island you can observe how the bird forages. It feeds from the ground’s leaf litter and seeds.

  • Finches – Pinzón de Darwin

Darwin’s finches are small land bird mainly those found in the Galapagos islands which inspired Darwin’s evolutionary theory. There are now 14 different subspecies which have all evolved from on ancestral species. In fact, these subspecies have evolved to adapt to their surroundings and in vain their diet accordingly. Moreover, research has shown that finches have a gene which influences the adaptation of their beak in order to be more effective in their foraging.

  • White-cheeked pintail duck – Anade Gargantillo

The White-cheeked Pintail duck

White-cheeked pintail ducks hold their name from the white feathers they have along their cheeks and neck. The bird feeds off aquatic plants, seeds on the surface and underwater. White-cheeked pintail ducks from the Galapagos Islands are sedentary birds. They nest on the ground near the water and are also thought to be opportunistic breeders.

  • Galapagos Common Gallinule – Gallineta Americana

Isabella island – Galapagos Common Gallinule

The common gallinule is an extremely widespread specy in the western hemisphere. They spend their time mainly in brackish lagoons where they live and forage. Their feet allow them to walk in muddy waters and over floating vegetation but also to catch some of their preys. Common gallinules forage crustaceans, insects, larvas, vegetation, seeds, snails… They nest just above the water on floating vegetation and more rarely is bushes or even trees.

  • Swallow-Tailed Gull – Gaviota Tijereta

San Cristobal – Swallow-tailed gulls

Swallow-tailed gulls are the only nocturnal gulls. They have excellent eye-sight which allows them to forage exclusively at night time. In fact, the orange ring around their eye provides an oil which improves nocturnal vision, provides them with a light filter, enhances the appearance of light squid in dark ocean, and helps them identify the type of fish in the ocean. Swallow-tailed gulls use echolocation to identify, locate and source food, these sound like screams and clicks.

  • Lava gull – Gaviota Fuliginosa

San Cristobal – Lava gull

The lava gull is endemic to the Galapagos islands and is actually the rarest of the subspecies of gulls. Their name takes after the colour of their plumage as it is similar to the colour of the lava rocks on the islands. The lava gull spends most of the time along the shore and rarely flies very far out to find food. They feed on crustaceans, small fish, baby iguanas, seabird eggs, and even sea lion placentas…

  • Great Blue Heron – Garza Azulada

Great blue heron – Isabela Island

This carnivore bird feeds primarily on fish but also aquatic insects, crabs, lizards, baby marine iguanas… It spends 90% of its time foraging, but more intensely at dawn and dusk. You will often see them standing still whilst they wait to spot a fish passing by. The great blue heron typically nests in the mangrove and breeds all year round. Incubation lasts for an average of 28 days.

  • Yellow-crowned night heron – Martinete Coronado

Yellow-crowned night heron – Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

As part of my Galapagos wildlife encounters, I came across a yellow-crowned night heron in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island. Its stalks its preys both at daytime and nighttime, although more active at night near shallow waters. These birds primarily feed on crustaceans such as fish, crabs, crayfish, aquatic invertebrates… Preys are most of the time swallowed whole or sometimes crushed into smaller pieces. During the mating season, the yellow-crowned night heron grows a feather crown.

  • Black-necked stilt – Cigüeñuela Cuellinegra

Santa Cruz – Galapagos black-necked stilt

My Galapagos wildlife encounters also included a black-necked stilt. Black-necked stilts are the second birds, just after flamingos, with the longest legs in proportion to their body size. They nest on the ground just above the water and are most commonly seen in salt lakes, shallow lagoons, and flooded low lowlands. This is where they hunt for their preys which consists of aquatic invertebrates and fish.

  • Galapagos or Lava heron – Garcilla de lava

    Lava Heron

    The lava heron is another one of my Galapagos wildlife encounters. This bird is endemic to the archipelago. You can often spot them waiting patiently for passing fish on lava rocks along the coast. It feeds primarily on crabs and small fish which it encounters most of the time in tidal pools but also enjoys lizards and insects. During the mating season their legs become bright orange.

  • Brown pelican – Pelícano Pardo

Pelicans at Santa Cruz fish market

Pelicans are relatively large seabirds with short legs. They are feed off fish quite close to shore, they catch their prey by aerial plunge-diving and its bill drains the water after diving. These cheeky pelicans are trying to steal the fish from Puerto Ayora’s fish market. Brown pelicans nest in bushes, mangrove, and trees. While incubating, they cover their eggs with their feet.

  • Whimbrel – Zarapito Trinador

Santa Cruz – Whimbrel

Whimbrels when migrating can do a non-stop flight of up to 4000 kms. They are ground foragers and feed off of marine invertebrates such as small crabs and insects, their beak allows them to search deep down in the sand. They also enjoy berries and even flowers. These birds nest on the ground in open habitats.

  • Galapagos Caribbean Flamingo – Flamenco

Caribbean Flamingos – Isabella Island

Another of the amazing Galapagos wildlife encounters is the Galapagos Caribbean flamingos. They live in alkaline or saline lakes and feed or aquatic plants and crustaceans rich in carotenoids which cause their feathers to turn pink. Although, the young flamingos’ feathers only begin turning pink once they reach 2 to 3 years old.  The male and female birds build their nest together and take turns incubating the egg once laid. Both the female and male flamingo can feed the chick with the milk they produce. You will observe that the flamingos often stand on one leg, this is the way the bird rests.

Invertebrates

  • Sally Lightfoot crab – Zapaya

Sally Lightfoot crabs

These are the most colorful crustaceans on the rocky coastal shore. Sally Lightfoot crabs are feed on nearly everything from sea lion placenta, marine iguana dead skin, and parasites, all the way to also feeding on other crabs… They turn redder as they get older and molt their shell. In fact, the younger Sally Lightfoot crabs are dark, similar to the colour of the lava rocks. The more they grow, the faster they get, therefore they are not as much in need of this camouflage anymore. As their name indicates, these crabs are very light on their feet and move extremely fast on land and on water, in fact, they seem to skip/walk on water.

Reptiles

  • Yellow iguana – Iguana terrestre de las Galápagos

Yellow Land Iguana enjoying the equator heat

The Yellow Galapagos Land Iguana is one of the 3 land iguana species endemic to the Galapagos Islands. They live in the drier areas of the islands and escape the heat at midday to rest in the shade. They feed off low growing plants, cactus pads, and fallen fruit.

  • Marine Iguana – Iguana Marina

Marine Iguana napping on the beach

One of the unavoidable wildlife encounters is the marine iguana which is endemic to the Galapagos islands. It is the only iguana able to swim, live and forage at sea. In fact, they have adapted to the Galapagos island lifestyle. They feed almost exclusively on green sea algae and ingest a large amount of salt. Marine iguanas have salt glands near their nose which allow them to evacuate the salt in their blood by sneezing. Their size seems and color seems to vary depending on the islands they live on. Male marine iguanas also change color during mating season. You will often see them lying in the sun, this process allows them to gain heat as it loses a lot of body warmth whilst foraging.

  • Tortoise – Tortuga Gigante de Los Galapagos

Giant Galapagos tortoise having a mud bath

The giant tortoise is the Galapagos’ most famous animal. The enchanted islands are actually named after them, as the old Spanish name for a tortoise is “Galapágo”. The giant tortoise weighs on average 250kg but can weigh up to 400kg and live up to 100 years +, being the largest living tortoise. The Galapagos giant tortoise feed on fruit, grass and cactus pads. The rest of their time is spent resting or bathing in water. This reptile can live up to 1 year without water or food.

  • Turtle – Tortuga Prieta

Galapagos Green turtle at Los Tuneles

The Green turtle is the only species of turtles to nest in the Galapagos. These turtles are vegetarians, although the younger ones are known to be more opportunistic and to eat a bit of everything. They have glands near their eyes which enable them to cry out the excess salt in their body. These reptiles are fast swimmers and can travel very long distances. They weigh an average of 65kg and measure on average 84cm but can attain 136kg and 130cm. You can see them come up to breath at the surface in calmer water but can stay underwater and even sleep for a few hours. Although their ability to stay underwater in shortened while they are stressed.

  • Lava lizard – Lagartija de lava

Female Lava Lizard

There are 7 different species of lava lizards found throughout the Galapagos archipelago. It is quite difficult to tell them apart. The male lizard has brighter colors and the female usually has a very red throat or head.

 

Lava Lizard

 

They can be seen resting, enjoying the heat of the sun laying on lava rocks. The lava lizards are very social, although I only ever saw them alone. In fact, they seem very much like their fellow iguanas.

 

Mammals

  • Sea lion – Lobo Marino

Galapagos Sea Lions

The emblematic Galapagos sea lions are one of those Galapagos wildlife encounters you can consider you have a guarantee to have on your trip to the Galapagos archipelago.  They spend a lot of their time resting on beaches, on benches, surfing the waves and playing in the water. Consequently, the sea lions are just wonderful to watch! In fact, I never got tired of them. And I wish you are lucky enough to see some swimming on one of your snorkeling outings as they are so elegant in the water.

  • Long fur seal – Oso marino de los Galapagos

Long fur seal resting near Los Tuneles – Isabella Island

Galapagos islands also host long fur seals which are smaller than the Galapagos sea lions and have longer fur as you may have guessed. The funny thing is that we call them seals but are actually sea lions as well. Long fur seals are in the less touristy areas, they can be seen resting on by rocky shores and on lava rocks. Although they can not be seen as easily as the Galapagos sea lions, there are thought to be pretty much as many of them throughout the archipelago.

  • Bottlenose dolphin – Delfín nariz de botella

Early morning dolphin games just off San Cristobal Island

Bottlenose dolphins are a common sight in the Galapagos Islands. They are fast swimmers and elegant dancers which dazzle the tourists lucky enough to spot them. They are playful, incredibly intelligent and social creatures, they travel in pods. Dolphins communicate with whistles and squeaks as well as with their body language. The common bottlenose dolphins prey on a variety of fish, shrimp, and squid… In order to locate their prey and receive details such as their size and shape thanks to echolocation, the clicks echo back with all this information. This process also enables them to navigate the waters.

Fish

  • Whitetip reef sharks – Tiburón de arrecife de punta blanca

White-tip reef shark

The whitetip reef shark to my great surprise was one of my first Galapagos wildlife encounters. They are a common sight throughout the Galapagos islands which I had not really integrated before coming face to face with two of them! This nocturnal shark is often seen resting in shallow waters and swims very close to shore. The white tipped reef shark feeds on crustaceans, octopus, fish, lobsters, mollusks… These sharks are relatively harmless to swimmers and usually swim away when approached although they are also very curious.

  • Seahorse – Caballito de mar

Seahorse

The seahorse holds on to plants or coral and is able to camouflage in accordance with its surroundings. This skill is essential to their hunting technique as it consists of blending in and waiting for its prey to pass by. The males are the ones that give birth and stay attached to its plant or coral for the whole gestation period which can last up to 45 days.

  • Marble ray – Raya

Marble ray

The marbled ray / black spotted stingray is a much rounder shape to other species and has black spots all over. It feeds at the bottom of the ocean on fish and crustaceans. These rays are not aggressive but you need to be aware of its spined tail.

  • Spotted eagle ray – Raya

Spotted eagle ray

Another of my Galapagos wildlife encounters in the water was the spotted eagle ray. It has a pointier head in comparison to other ray species and is recognisable thanks to this characteristic as well as the spots on the top of its body. Spotted eagle rays are coastal species but have been spotted in the deep ocean as they are known to migrate.


Check out some more of my Galapagos wildlife shots here.

Meanwhile, I would just like to add a reminder with respect to the wildlife and to the national park’s rules.

  • Do not use flash photography
  • It is required to keep a distance of 2 meters (6 feet) between yourself and wildlife even if they approach you. In practice, this is not always easy. For instance, the bridge leading to Concha Perla on Isabella island is often full of sea lions which you may have to step over… However, just keep this in mind, and do not disturb the natural course of nature.
  • Do not feed the wildlife as it can cause health problems or other…

Take only pictures and leave only footprints behind. 

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