Galapagos Islands, cruises, seabirds, sea birds, gull, tern, petrel, migrants

Sailing on Galapagos Breezes: Seabirds to Spot on Your Galapagos Cruise (part 2)

While you are cruising from one Galapagos island to another, you will be visited by diverse seabirds. They may sail on the breeze, following your ship, or even land on the riggings or railings for a while.

In this part, we will follow the movements of true seabirds that spend much of their lives far out at sea. They also come to land, to nest on the coastal cliffs and shores of the Galapagos Islands. So even if you decide to take a land-based tour of the Galapagos, you may still see some of them. July and September are especially busy months for rearing their young.

Many of these seabird species are endemic, being found only in the Galapagos. Resident or indigenous species are not unique to the Galapagos, but they do live and breed in these islands. Four seabird species are migrants, temporarily visiting the Galapagos on a regular basis.

Get your binoculars and camera ready to check out these beautiful creatures. We give you the length and wingspan of each seabird species, so you may more easily identify them as they sail overhead.

 

Galapagos Islands, cruises, seabirds, sea birds, gull, tern, petrel, migrants

Lava Gull. photo by Vince Smith (www.flickr.com/photos/vsmithuk)

Lava Gull

Only about 400 breeding pairs of Lava Gulls exist, making it the rarest of all gulls in the world. Even though they are not numerous, it is common to see them throughout the Galapagos archipelago (especially at Puerto Ayora’s Fishermen’s Wharf). Its body is sooty grey, with a paler underside. The head is darker grey, with white lining around the eyes. The eyes lids and inside of its mouth are scarlet.

  • Scientific name – Leucophaeus fuliginosus
  • Spanish name – gaviota de lava
  • Length – 51-55 centimeters (1.8 feet)
  • Wingspan – 130 centimeters (4.2 feet)
  • Best islands to see them – Throughout the archipelago, but especially Santa Cruz Island
  • Breeding / nesting season – Breeding: May-October; nesting: November-February

 

Galapagos Islands, cruises, seabirds, sea birds, gull, tern, petrel, migrants

Swallow-tailed Gull. photo by Murray Foubister (www.flickr.com/photos/mfoubister)

Swallow-tailed Gull

The endemic Swallow-tailed Gull is the world’s only nocturnal gull. It has a white body, and a distinctive black head with a crimson ring around its eyes. Its black bill has a grey tip. The feet are red. As its name indicates, the tail is forked. During March, keep your eyes on the cliffs, as you have a good chance of seeing fluffy Swallow-tailed Gull chicks.

  • Scientific name – Creagrus furcatus
  • Spanish name – gaviota cola bifurcada
  • Length – 51-57 centimeters (20-22 inches)
  • Wingspan – 124-139 centimeters (49-55 inches)
  • Best islands to see them – Genovesa, South Plaza
  • Breeding / nesting season – Year-round

 

Galapagos Islands, cruises, seabirds, sea birds, gull, tern, petrel, migrants

Galapagos Shearwater. photo by Jayne Bartlett (www.flickr.com/photos/jaynebartlett)

Galapagos Shearwater

The Galapagos Shearwater is dark brown to black on its back, wings, head and tail, and white on its underside. You can distinguish these low flyers by how they skim over the water with quick wingbeats. During May, great flocks of Galapagos Shearwaters are sighted during daytime navigation. This seabird is endemic to the Galapagos Islands where it breeds, and migrates to the Pacific coast of southern Mexico and Central America.

  • Scientific name – Puffinus subalaris
  • Spanish name – Pufino de Galápagos
  • Length – 29-31 centimeters (11-12 inches)
  • Wingspan – 63 centimeters (25 inches)
  • Best place to see them – islets off Santa Cruz, Española, Santa Cruz, Champion and Wolf islands
  • Breeding / nesting season – Year-round

 

Galapagos Islands, cruises, seabirds, sea birds, gull, tern, petrel, migrants

Galapagos Petrel. photo by Lip Kee (www.flickr.com/photos/lipkee)

Petrels

Four species of Petrel can be seen in the Galapagos Islands. Three are endemic: Elliot’s Strom Petrel, Wedge-rumped Strom Petrel and Galapagos Petrel. The Band-rumped Storm Petrel is resident.

Elliot’s Storm Petrel (Oceanites gracilis galapagoensis) is a small, dark-brown bird. Distinguishing marks are a pale brown bar on the upper wings, a white rump and a pale grey belly patch. It is commonly seen during Galapagos cruises and lives on many of the islands. Little is known about its nesting habits, though it is believed it mates between April and October.

The Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel (Oceanodroma tethys tethys) is a medium-sized bird that is dark-brown down the backside and lighter on the underside. A pale brown bar marks the upper wing. The rump is white and triangular shaped. It typically breeds April to October, and nests on Genovesa and Pitt Islet.

The Galapagos Petrel (Pterodroma phaeopygia) is locally called pata pegada. This dark-colored bird has a white forehead. It is frequently sighted on crossings between islands. In the evening, the Galapagos Petrel flies inland, and even in Puerto Aroya you may see it heading home. Listen for its high-pitched whistle. In April and May, it nests in the highlands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Santiago, Floreana and Isabela.

The Band-rumped Storm Petrel (Oceanodroma castro) is medium-sized, dark-brown seabird with a paler bar on the upper wing and a wide white bar across the upper tail. It has two breeding seasons (May and November), and nests on several of the archipelago’s smaller islands.

 

Galapagos Islands, cruises, seabirds, sea birds, gull, tern, petrel, migrants

Brown Noddy Tern. photo by Les Williams (www.flickr.com/photos/leswilliamsphotography)

Brown Noddy Tern

The Brown Noddy is endemic to the Galapagos Islands. Its brown body has a whitish “cap” on its head. They earn their unusual name because they nod to each other during courtship rituals. They usually nest in cliffs or low trees, and rarely on the ground.

  • Scientific name – Anous stolidus galapagensis
  • Spanish name – Gaviotín de cabeza blanca
  • Length – 39 centimeters (15 inches)
  • Wingspan – 76 centimeter (30 inches)
  • Best islands to see them – Throughout the archipelago, but especially Darwin, Española, Isabela, Pinzon, Santa Cruz, Santiago, Wolf
  • Breeding / nesting season – Breeding: November

 

Sooty Tern

The Sooty Tern is rarely seen during most Galapagos cruises, though if you head to the western part of the archipelago, you may spot them. These birds are black along the back, with black head, wings and tail. The throat and undersides are white. A white triangle perches above the beak. The Sooty Tern is currently known to live only in the Galapagos Islands; however, there is insufficient knowledge to judge whether this tern subspecies is endemic to these islands. It breeds on Darwin Island.

  • Scientific name – Onychoprion fuscatus crissalis
  • Spanish name – Gaviotín negro
  • Length – 38-45 centimeters (15-18 inches)
  • Wingspan – 86-94 centimeters (34-37 inches)
  • Best islands to see them – Western part of the Galapagos archipelago

 

Galapagos Islands, cruises, seabirds, sea birds, gull, tern, petrel, migrants

Red-billed Tropicbird. photo by Lip Kee (www.flickr.com/photos/lipkee)

Red-billed Tropicbird

The Red-Billed Tropicbird is a stunning sight to see. This snowy-white bird has black markings around the eyes, and on the wings and lower back. Its most striking features are its bright-red beak and the 46- to 56-centimeter (18 to 22 inch) long tail streamers. When feeding, it plunge dives. It nests on sea cliffs and smaller islets throughout the archipelago. During February, flocks of majestic Red-billed Tropic Birds sail the skies near the central and southern islands of the archipelago. It is an indigenous Galapagos seabird species.

  • Scientific name – Phaethon aethereus
  • Spanish name – Pájaro Tropical
  • Best islands to see them – Darwin, Española, Genovesa, Santa Cruz, Santiago and small islets
  • Best time of year to see them – February
  • Breeding / nesting season – Year-round

 

Galapagos Islands, cruises, seabirds, sea birds, gull, tern, petrel, migrants

Franklin’s Gull. photo by Rian Castillo (www.flickr.com/photos/digitizedchaos)

And Then There Are the Migrants …

Four seabirds are regular visitors to the Galapagos Islands. You’ll see them during the summer and winter months as they migrate from the cold weather in one hemisphere to the other. With the coming of the September equinox, they are southbound; with the March, they head to northern climes.

If you are vacationing in the Galapagos at these times, keep an eye out for the Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) and Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus) near Santa Cruz Island. The Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) can be seen on Santa Cruz, as well as Baltra and North Seymour. If your Galapagos cruise is also visiting the western part of the archipelago, then look for Franklin’s Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan) near Isabela and Fernandina islands.

 

Be sure to check out Part 1, in which we train our binoculars on the Galapagos Islands’ most iconic and common seabirds, like the Flightless Cormorant and Frigatebirds. How many of these incredible seabirds did you see on your Galapagos cruise? Tell us about it in the comments below.

 

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Photo credit: Don Heffernan

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