Birdlife of Galapagos: Galapagos Hawk

December 04, 2013

The Galapagos hawk is an endemic raptor (bird of prey) and is the only diurnal endemic raptor on the islands. There are two other raptors, both of which are nocturnal owl species, the short-eared owl and the barn owl. The Galapagos hawk is a fairly large raptor very similar in size to the red-tailed hawk of North America. Like the red-tailed hawk, the Galapagos hawk is a buteo (broad-winged) hawk that relies on its sharp, powerful talons to capture prey. They prey on lava lizards, young marine iguanas, snakes, young birds and unlike many raptors, will scavenge on the remains of dead birds, sea lions and they will also feed on sea lion afterbirth. Galapagos hawks have a very unique method of nesting and breeding that allows them far greater success in raising young. A female will mate with as many as three or four males and all of the males will assist in caring for young. This method is called cooperative polyandry. Polyandry is not unique to Galapagos hawks, and other familiar polyandrous birds include spotted sandpipers, phalaropes and jacanas.

As with many raptors, female Galapagos hawks are larger than males. This allows females to take larger prey and thus a greater variety of species can be taken to feed hungry chicks. This species is one of the rarest raptors on Earth with less than 1,000 individuals on the islands. They can be observed, however, on all of the larger islands during your Galapagos Islands cruise. Young birds are somewhat cream-colored on the breast with bold streaking. Adult birds become almost chocolate in color by three years of age. Raptors are always a joy to observe and due to the openness of the habitats on the islands, the Galapagos hawks are very easily observed, sometimes for long periods of time.

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.