Bold and inquisitive, the Galapagos Mockingbird is a character that will come right up to introduce himself, with no fear whatsoever.
These are wonderfully charismatic and audacious birds, and very popular with Galapagos visitors as a result. I even remember a Galapagos Mockingbird perched on the head of one lucky tourist during my first cruise, singing a sweet melody, oblivious to our snapping cameras.
Today, we can find 4 different mockingbird species that are endemic to the Galapagos Islands, but one is critically endangered, and two vulnerable. In the words of Harper Lee’s character, Atticus: “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”, so those found at Galapagos need our helping hand.
keep reading to learn more about the Galapagos Mockingbird. Where to see them? How to tell each mockingbird species apart? Plus the surprising role that the humble Galapagos Mockingbird played in the evolution of species.
In 1835, the HMS Beagle brought English botanist Charles Darwin to the Galapagos Islands. Here he found a species of bird that would help shape natural history forever – the Galapagos Mockingbird.
During his time at Galapagos, Darwin shot and collected hundreds of wildlife specimens, including a decent number of mockingbirds, which at the time he called mocking-thrushes. It wasn’t until later in the voyage that he began to notice their close resemblance to the mockingbirds that he had found on mainland South America. Even more curiously, he noticed that the size and beak shape of mockingbirds was slightly different between each Galapagos island.
This was Darwin’s Eureka moment when he realized that, not only had the Galapagos Mockingbirds descended from the original mainland species but also mockingbirds on different islands had evolved in their own unique ways to suit the natural habitat of each island.
From these observations, Darwin’s famous Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection was born, and human knowledge was changed forever. So we should all be thankful to the evolution and adaptations of the Galapagos Mockingbird for greatly advancing our knowledge of the natural world.
Your naturalist guide will be happy to point them out to you and explain the adaptations made by each Galapagos Mockingbird species. Fortunately, it is easy to tell the difference between them, as the different species are named after the island on which you find them – see how many of the 4 species you can tick off, and try to recognize the subtle differences between them as Darwin did.
For more information about Galapagos Tours to see Mockingbirds first hand (as well as many other fascinating bird and mammal species), Contact a member of our team for a FREE GALAPAGOS VACATION QUOTE.
Mockingbirds are named due to their impressive ability to mimic (or mock) the calls of other bird species, yet curiously none of the Galapagos species today have inherited this skill.
These birds are easy to recognize, with long legs and tail, slim curved beak, and pretty brown, grey, and white plumage. Their sweet song and lack of fear with humans is the clear giveaway.
Galapagos mockingbirds follow a complex social structure, unlike mainland species. They live in social groups within a defined territory, which they will all defend aggressively together when under threat, the principal danger being human-introduced species such as rats and cats.
So, let’s learn a little more about each Galapagos Mockingbird Species, and where we can find them.
Conservation Status: Least Concern
Scientific Name: Mimus Parvulus
Can be seen on: All Galapagos islands except for San Cristobal, Floreana and Española.
The Galapagos Mockingbird is by far the most common of the 4 species and is widespread across the archipelago. They are most often seen hopping or running along the ground, rather than in flight, and are omnivores - feeding on insects, seeds, and even the blood of other dead bird species.
The Galapagos Mockingbird has an interesting relationship with Marine Iguanas, who have learned to recognize the warning call of mockingbirds under threat and react for their own safety. Unfortunately, Marine Iguanas make no sound themselves so they are unable to return the favor.
Conservation Status: Endangered
Scientific Name: Mimus Melanotis
Can be seen on: San Cristobal Island.
The San Cristobal Mockingbird is the smallest of the Galapagos species, and also considerably shyer than the others. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, mangroves, and shrubland. This species is endangered largely due to rats and cats on inhabited San Cristobal island, as well as habitat loss of the Opuntia (prickly pear) Cactus.
Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
Scientific Name: Mimus Trifasciatus
Can be seen on: Champion & Gardner Islets close to Floreana island.
The Floreana Mockingbird population is now down to just 150-200 individual birds, with active conservation projects underway to protect them. Back in Darwin’s day he reported a plentiful population right across Floreana island, yet today they are nearly extinct.
The few remaining Floreana Mockingbirds migrated closeby to the small islets of Champion and Gardner where there is less severe habitat loss. They are almost identical to the Galapagos mockingbird, except for their red-brown eyes and dark patches on their side breast.
Conservation Status: Vulnerable
Scientific Name: Mimus Macdonaldi
Can be seen on: Española island.
The most charismatic of the Galapagos mockingbird species is that found on Española (Hood) Island. Here we find a more audacious and aggressive bird, that harasses visiting tourists to give them snacks or water – this can be quite the spectacle.
In appearance, the Hood Mockingbird is also distinct, with a longer and more pronounced curved beak than the other Galapagos Mockingbird species. Why does the Hood Mockingbird have a long beak? It helps them to delicately tap a small hole into seabird eggs for food.
You've now been formally introduced to the 4 main characters, so let's learn a bit more about the life of a typical Galapagos Mockingbird.
All four species of Galapagos mockingbird are endemic to the Galapagos islands, that is to say that you will not find them at any other place on the planet.
Mockingbirds are a land bird species, and can be found across most of the different Galapagos habitat zones. They are most common in arid lowlands, beaches and mangroves or cactus forest, but can also be spotted in the lusher vegetation of the highlands.
What do Galapagos Mockingbirds eat? Their prefered diet consists of insects like caterpillars and centipedes. But they are happy to scavenge pretty much anything, from cactus fruit / nectar to small lava lizards, seabird eggs or ticks picked from the back of iguanas.
The level of threat to Galapagos mockingbird species varies greatly. At one end of the spectrum, the Galapagos Mockingbird has the largest range and is considered to be of Least Concern. At the other end we have the poor Critically Endangered Floreana Mockingbird.
The main threats to the Floreana mockingbird have been devastating habitat loss of Opuntia Cactus, and predation by invasive species such as cats and rats. The Philornis fly is another issue, as it is for the critically endangered Isabela Mangrove Finch too. So the few remaining Floreana mockingbirds were forced to flee to nearby islets Champion and Gardner-by-Floreana in order to survive.
What conservation efforts are underway to help the Floreana Mockingbird? The first step is habitat rehabilitation and removal of invasive species threats. Feral goats were successfully removed from Floreana island back in 2007 by the Galapagos National Park Authority, but the extensive damage to opuntia habitat will take decades to recover. Meanwhile the Charles Darwin foundation is continually monitoring the size and health of the Floreana Mockingbird population, and eventually hope to restore the birds to Floreana island and repopulate them.
In conclusion, the Galapagos Mockingbird is a wonderful character to meet at the islands. They are social and inquisitive birds that love to come up to meet tourists. Their story is an important part of not only Galapagos but also world natural history. The main Galapagos Mockingbird is easy to spot, but you'll have to work harder to see them on San Cristobal, Espanola and the Floreana islets. Remember "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird", so let's appreciate these little fellas and support the fine conservation projects designed to protect them.