The diversity of animal life on the Galapagos Islands is astounding when you consider the remoteness and often difficult environment of these small land masses. Over 97% of the marine species, 30% of the flora and 80% of the birds are endemic – they are found no where on the rest of our planet. I written posts on a few of the superstars, some endemic others not -blue-footed booby, marine iguana, Galapagos penguin, sea lion, eagle ray, frigate, and the finch.
Now I would like to highlight some of the lesser known but no less fascinating birds of the Galapagos and I promise that even if you aren’t an avid birdwatcher, you will be entertained.
WHITE CHEEKED PINTAIL DARK – ENDEMIC – These medium-sized birds have plump bodies, short necks, round heads, and medium-length, blunt-tipped and slightly upturned blue bills with red sides. Ducks are usually seen on the water in wetlands or at rest on land. The white cheeked Pintail is an opportunistic breeder as long as weather conditions are favorable so it is fairly common.
The description sounds pretty mundane, but I think the white cheeked pintail is a very pretty duck. My first sighting was early in the morning and was cloaked in a dreamy mist:
Later in the day the sun had burned off the mist and in a beautifully colored mangrove wetland I got to see more of these ducks in their natural habitat. FYI, these are not photoshopped – the wetland water is very brackish, that is a combination of ocean saltwater and fresh water. It’s yellow/tan color is due to grass, leaves and other organic matter dissolving in it over time.
In addition, the same pool of The Finch Bay Hotel that had my visiting egret also had a pair of resident white cheeked pintail ducks. They swam in the pool and laid in the sun daily, but I never saw any evidence of their stay other than their physical presence (i.e. No poop). I don’t know whether they were “house trained” or just smart enough to figure out not to leave anything that might forcibly end their visitation rights.
I saw this same pair also on the beach area in front of the hotel – not a bad life if you ask me.
While there are many birds familiar to me on the Galápagos Islands – I will show you more in a moment – I also learned about some new species.
BLACK NECKED STILT – This perfectly named wading coastal bird is so elegant, with long thin legs and a slender, long beak. It’s black and white coloring provides a lovely contrast to the brackish mangrove waters:
The stilt is a common bird easily found but this next bird is quite rare, although not endemic and I am thrilled to have gotten even one quick photo of a pair who were well hidden in the thick brush of the mangrove forest:
SMOOTH BILLED ANI – They may look like ravens, but these birds are actually related to the cuckoo. They have large and thick bills which are laterally compressed. The ani was introduced to the Galapagos in the 1970’s by farmers who hoped it would control ticks on the cattle that the farmers had also introduced to the islands. This was not particularly successful.
One of the more prolific endemic bird species in the Galapagos is actually the bird (not the finch) that had the earliest influence on Charles Darwin’s development of the Theory of Natural selection. These birds thrive on the islands and they are very animated characters. Guess who? Answer in next week’s post.