Welcome to the top of the Galapagos Islands food chain for land creatures! The Galapagos Hawk and is an exceptional hunter, feared by all other land species including iguanas, snakes and turtle hatchlings. They are often spotted soaring majestically across Galapago skies, or diving like bullets. The Galapagos Hawk is endemic to the Galapagos Islands, meaning that you can only find it here, and nowhere else in the world. It is also one of the rarest raptor birds on the planet, with an estimated population of just 150 breeding pairs. If you are fortunate enough to spot one then do take some time to appreciate this magnificent Galapagos bird.
Read on for everything you ever wanted to know about the Galapagos Hawk. Where and when is is possible to see them? How to recognise this species? What conservation work is under way to protect Galapagos Hawks? Plus lots more raptor related facts along the way.
The Galapagos Hawk is an ENDEMIC SPECIES.
Conservation Status: Vulnerable.
Scientific Name: Buteo Galapagoensis.
With such a small Galapagos Hawk population alive today one might imagine that they are difficult to spot, but that is often not the case. Given that they soar so high in the skies they are quite unmistakable. Also they tend to nest in open sites that may be visible to visiting tourists.
Galapagos Hawks can be found on all major Galapagos islands, with the notable exceptions of Baltra, Daphne, Floreana, San Cristobal, and North Seymour where they have become extinct.
Galapagos hawks nest all year round and can be spotted during any month of the year.
Galapagos Hawks are closely related to North America’s red-backed and white-tailed hawks. At Galapagos this splendid bird is easily recognisable as it’s the only hawk species at the islands.
Adults are dark-brown/black in colour, while adolescents are a lighter cream brown to provide camoflage until they grow old enough to protect themselves. Like all raptors they have sharp beak and talons, and keen eyesight which make them such feared hunters.
In size a Galapagos Hawk usually weighs between 650 and 850 grams, with an impressive wingspan up to 1.2 meters. The female Galapagos hawk is larger than the male, which is in fact a common trait in birds of prey.
They are highly adaptive birds, capable of nesting on lava shelves, in trees or shrubs, in the highlands or lowlands of Galapagos. Despite their adaptability to such a diverse habitat range they remain vulnerable to habitat loss caused by humans or invasive species.
Galapagos hawks follow an unusual breeding system known as cooperative polyandry. Male hawks are monogamous, but a single female can mate with multiple males during her breeding period. The same group of males will then help to raise the chicks and take turns incubating eggs & feeding the hatchlings.
Watching Galapagos hawk courtship can be a spectacular treat for visitors. A courting couple will fly high through the sky together, often diving towards land while crisscrossing each other’s path. Sometimes males can become quite aggressive during this process, even appearing to dive-bomb the female bird.
Galapagos Hawk nesting season is rather undefined as they are capable of nesting at any time of year. Nests are large affairs, sometimes as much as 4 feet in diameter. Galapagos hawk eggs are incubated for 38 days, with 1 to 3 eggs per clutch. Hatchlings then need to be looked after for up to 2 months before they can leave the nest. They will not be able to return to the breeding ground until at least 3 years old and ready to mate for themselves.
The Galapagos hawk diet is diverse – being the Apex land predator they can hunt pretty much anything that come their way. Invertebrates (centipedes and locusts) and small rodents are an easy catch, while their menu also includes lava lizards, baby iguanas (land & marine), sea turtle and land tortoise hatchlings, other birds, and Galapagos snakes. They are also happy to pounce on an easy meal if they spot carrion.
Galapagos hawks are active hunters during the day, making them easier to spot at different Galapagos visitor sights on tours and cruises. Hawk hunting groups form, flying together as 2 or 3 individuals, allowing for more effective prey sightings, and diverse attack strategies.
• The Galapagos Hawk is listed as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List, and has even become extinct on some islands. Given that they have no natural predators at Galapagos, why is the Galapagos hawk endangered? Unfortunately both habitat loss and competition for food sources with invasive species such as cats has caused hawk numbers to decline. The Galapagos hawk is also a sensitive creature, and will abandon their nest if interfered with by humans.
• There is no current Galapagos Hawk conservation work underway, although this species is indirectly helped by National Park removal of invasive species and habitat protection. They have also been protected under Ecuadorian law since 1959, making hawk hunting illegal at the Galapagos islands.
• The Galapagos hawk is one of the most recent species to have arrived to the Galapagos islands. Scientists estimate that their original ancestors flew ashore approximately 300,000 years ago. This may sound like a long time, but compare them to the Galapagos Finch who flew this way some 2–3 million years ago!
If you enjoyed this post, then check out more about Bird Species at Galapagos.
In Conclusion, the Galapagos Hawk is a bird you will likely cross paths with at the islands. This attractive raptor is an elegant flyer, powerful hunter, and important part of the Galapagos land food chain. They show little or no fear of humans, so visitors can often get close enough to appreciate their pretty plumage and fearsome talons. Remember that there are just 150 breeding Galapagos hawk left pairs on the planet today, so an encounter with them is a truly special nature experience!