Wild, Wild Galapagos: Galapagos Hawks Sit High Atop the Food Chain

June 01, 2012
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The Galapagos Islands are known for the diverse array of plants and animals that call the archipelago home and few are more powerful than the Galapagos hawk. This predatory bird is one of the few animals that prey on other large creatures on the islands, and is the only raptor living on the Galapagos Islands. The hawks are also active during the day, which means you're likely to see them circling the skies during International Expeditions’ small ship cruises to the Galapagos.

These birds appear similar to their relatives, white-tailed hawks, but the Galapagos hawk has darker, brown feathers. The tail feathers are dark gray with subtle black striping, which offsets the bright yellow beak and feet. The hawks are about two feet in length, and their size allows them to feed on a variety of animals including iguanas, small tortoises, sea turtles, goats, and other birds. The birds have also been known to scavenge for food such as carrion and insects, and their diets vary depending on location, time of year and the individual birds.

Unlike many other animals, Galapagos hawks gather in groups of one female and a handful of males, a social structure known as cooperative polyandry. The female mates with all of the male birds in her group, and when her egg hatches, every member helps out with raising the baby bird. It takes about five weeks for the egg to hatch. Once the baby hawk is born, the other members of the group spend roughly five weeks caring for it, at which point it should be ready to leave the nest.

The nests built by Galapagos hawks are rather impressive. You can typically see them near lava outflows or in low tree branches. The birds use sticks to build the basic structure and then line the nest bed with materials like grass, leaves and bark to create a comfortable surface. After the chicks have grown and left the nest, the hawks will continue to use it. The next time the female is going to lay an egg, the nest will be expanded. They have been known to reach nearly 10 feet in height and five feet in diameter.


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