What Galápagos' land birds lack in glamour or size they make up for with scientific interest and sometimes incredible tameness.
Although they are nothing special to look at, the islands' finches helped! change the course of science. All are thought to have descended from a common ancestor, which on arrival in the archipelago found a host of vacant ecological niches and evolved into the 13 species known today. Their different distribution, beak size and shape, and feeding habits helped Charles Darwin formulate his evolutionary theories and today] they are commonly known as Darwin's finches.
At least one species is found on each island, and several are easy to see around settlements. Like their namesakes, warbler finches glean insects from foliage; the three species of ground-finch are separated by bill size and typically - but not always - feed on seeds on the ground; and cactus finches are most often seen around stands of opuntia cactuses. The remarkable woodpecker finch grasps twigs in its bill to help extract grubs from holes and cracks under tree bark - a remarkable example of tool use that is very rare among birds. And, an example of evolution in action, the so-called vampire finch of remote Islas Wolf and Darwin is a type of ground-finch that has learned to supplement its moisture requirements by pecking wounds in live seabirds and drinking blood.
Fearless parties of mockingbirds are often the first birds to investigate visitors at beach landings, and are famous for poking around in bags and perching on hats. These nondescript, thrush-sized birds are easily recognizable by their down-curved bill and cocky manner, and are actually fine songsters. The four very similar species are endemic to the Galápagos and feed on seeds, insects and small animals such as lizards.
The endemic Galápagos hawk is a large raptor with no natural enemies and often allows curious visitors to approach within a meter. Unfortunately, its fearlessness and penchant for preying on domestic chickens led to its persecution by early settlers and it is now extinct on several islands. Just over a hundred pairs remain scattered among the islands; Islas Santiago, Bartolomé, Española, Santa Fé, Fernandina and Isabela are the best on which to see them.
Of the two resident owl species the most commonly seen is the short-eared owl, which commonly hunts by day on islands where there is no competition from Galápagos hawks, such as Genovesa. The barn owl is the same species found the world over, although it is rather more nocturnal on Galápagos and rarely glimpsed by most visitors.
The gentle doves are represented by the endemic Galápagos dove, a small, ground-dwelling species that is common on uninhabited islands such as Española, although it is now uncommon around settlements where cats and dogs have taken a toll. A variety of other small land birds are also
j' sent year-round, their numbers increased by migratory species during lie northern winter.
Widespread in the highlands, the adult male vermilion flycatcher is uunistakable with its bright-red crown and chest. Females are brown •lK)ve and yellowish beneath, and easily confused with the endemic Urge-billed (Galápagos) flycatcher, although the latter is also found at tea-level and is much more abundant. The tiny yellow warbler is found in ail habitats on just about every island. The dark-billed cuckoo is common, but rather secretive and difficult to see, but another cuckoo species, the smooth-billed ani> is common among secondary growth. This large, •II black bird is thought to have introduced itself from South America «ml is something of a pest because it preys on native nestlings.
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