Meet the Galapagos Hawk

December 21, 2015

 

Guided expeditions to the Galapagos Islands provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences not just because of the scenery and the voyage itself, but because of the opportunities for viewing wildlife you won’t see anywhere else on the planet. One rare species you might spot while on a Galapagos Islands cruise is the Galapagos hawk.

Galapagos Hawk - Photo credit: Chris Hornaman
Galapagos Hawk - Photo credit: Chris Hornaman

Although not as flashy as the turquoise-footed booby and other species found on the island, serious bird-watchers and fans are well aware of the broad physiques and leadership qualities of the Galapagos hawk. If anything, once you’ve heard its distinctive mating call or its screaming as it soars overhead, you probably won’t ever forget it. The hawk is one of the most interesting birds of the Galapagos.

 

Galapagos Hawk Has Less Dazzle, But Camouflages Perfectly 

Size-wise, Galapagos hawks are often considered similar to other hawks such as the red-tailed and Swainson’s hawk. Its wingspan can be as much as 55 centimeters, particularly ideal for spending the majority of its time in the air.

Galapagos Hawk in flight- Photo credit: Chris Hornaman
Galapagos Hawk in flight- Photo credit: Chris Hornaman

Typically brownish-black with some areas darker than others, it also has paler brown or grey shades. However, you can easily spot the difference between elder hawks and their younger brethren, thanks to variations in color. Young hawks are more camouflaged and generally all brown in color; even their eyes are a lighter brown than those of their elders.


Predators at the Top of the Galapagos Food Chain

The Galapagos hawk isn’t one to hide in the bushes afraid to venture out, especially when it comes to hunting for food. Its diet primarily includes insects considered small and harmless, such as locusts and centipedes. However, the hawk is also well-known for hunting lizards, snakes, and even sea turtles, as well as marine and land iguanas. Because of their sharp beaks, these hawks have also been known to pick apart and dine on rancid carrion.

Although brave and powerful birds, Galapagos hawks prefer hunting in groups of two or three, signaling each other from the sky whenever one spots food. Whichever hawk is considered to be the most dominant then feasts on the prey until sated, while the others wait their turn. Known for extremely sharp vision, the Galapagos hawk is able to hunt and spot its prey from the sky.


Any Time is Mating Season for Galapagos Hawks

Galapagos Hawks might mate several times a day while perched on a branch, or even in-flight!

Mating usually begins first with the male pretending to attack from behind, then following the female to the trees as she seeks shelter. Interestingly enough, after essentially tricking the female hawk into mating, the males tend to be monogamous, while the females might go on to mate with as many as seven different males. After nesting, males assist in raising the chicks.


Galapagos Hawks Are Fearless of Humans

With fewer than 150 total mating pairs in existence, while there’s no guarantee you’ll spot one, the Galapagos hawk is considered an approachable bird and fearless of humans. In the past, the greatest threat to this species has been illegal persecution by humans, especially in Santa Cruz and South Isabela. In areas such as Isabela, hawk numbers may have decreased due to battles lost with feral cats and other predators seeking food. 

Many believe that the Galapagos hawk has also faced local extinction due to its lack of genetic diversity, which predisposes the species to disease and an increase in parasite loads. There are other concerns, such as the potential for a hawk to abandon its nest if it is disturbed by humans. For the most part, however, the Galapagos hawk has always been a rare bird that hasn’t ever been able to claim the large populations commonly found with other species. And, because of its smaller numbers, the hawk is still considered a vulnerable species.

The Galapagos hawk and many other rare and fascinating animal species inhabit Galapagos Islands landing sites. Contact an experienced Polar Travel Adviser to learn more about the diverse wildlife you might encounter in different areas of the islands.

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