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8 Fascinating Facts About the Galapagos Shearwater

The Galapagos Islands are home to many unique species, including the Galapagos Shearwater, Puffinus subalaris. This bird is a seabird that can be found in the waters around the archipelago.

While it may not be as well-known as other species found in the area, the Galapagos Shearwater is an important part of the ecosystem. In this article, we will explore the identification of the Galapagos Shearwater, including field identification and similar species.

We will also look at the different plumages and molts of the bird.


The Galapagos Shearwater is a medium-sized seabird, measuring between 30 and 35 centimeters in length. It has a wingspan of approximately 70 centimeters.

The bird has a dark brown back and wings, while its underparts are white. It has a long, pointed tail and a dark bill.

The eyes of the bird are black, while the legs and feet are pale pink. Field


To identify the Galapagos Shearwater in the field, it is important to look for its distinctive dark brown back and wings, which contrast sharply with its white underparts.

Its long, pointed tail is also a useful identification feature. The bird can often be seen flying low over the waters surface, with its wings almost touching the water.

Similar Species

There are other species of shearwaters found in the waters around the Galapagos Islands, such as the Wedge-tailed Shearwater and the Sooty Shearwater. These species can be identified by their different plumages and wing shapes.

The Wedge-tailed Shearwater has a distinctive wedge-shaped tail, while the Sooty Shearwater has darker plumage and longer wings.


The Galapagos Shearwater has two different plumages: breeding and non-breeding. During breeding season, the birds plumage becomes darker, with a more chocolate brown color on its back and wings.

The bird also develops a yellow patch above its bill and a white patch on its upperwing. During non-breeding season, the plumage is lighter, with a more grayish-brown color on its back and wings.


Like many other bird species, the Galapagos Shearwater undergoes molts, during which it replaces its feathers. There are three different molts that the bird goes through: pre-basic, basic, and alternate.

Pre-basic molt occurs during the non-breeding season, with the bird replacing its flight feathers. Basic molt occurs during the breeding season when the bird replaces its body feathers.

Alternate molt occurs outside of the breeding season when the bird replaces specific feathers without affecting its flight feathers.


The Galapagos Shearwater may not be the most well-known bird species found in the Galapagos Islands, but it is an important part of the ecosystem. Its unique plumage and distinctive flight pattern make it a fascinating bird to observe.

By understanding its identification, plumages, and molts, we can gain a better understanding of this seabird species.

Systematics History

The taxonomy of a species refers to the process of classifying and categorizing living organisms. The Galapagos Shearwater has been subject to several changes in its taxonomic classification over the year.

Initially, it was classified into the genus Puffinus, where many seabirds were placed. However, recent molecular studies suggested that the Galapagos Shearwater was more closely related to the Calonectris genus.

Geographic Variation

Geographic variation refers to the differences in the appearance and behavior of a species in different locations. While the Galapagos shearwater is found around the Galapagos Islands, there are variations in the morphology and genetics of the bird.

These variations are a result of geographic isolation, adaptation to different ecological conditions, and genetic drift.


The Galapagos Shearwater has two recognized subspecies. The Puffinus subalaris bannermani inhabiting the Isla Lobos, and P.

subalaris subalaris, is distributed throughout the remaining Galapagos Islands. The differences between the subspecies are mainly in the shape and size of their bills.

Related Species

The Galapagos Shearwater belongs to the Shearwater family, which consists of around 30 species worldwide. The Shearwater family includes species such as the Manx Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, and Short-tailed Shearwater.

These birds share certain characteristics, including tube-like nostrils on their bills, long and slender wings, and a diet that includes fish and squid.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Galapagos Shearwater is a non-migratory species that is restricted to the waters around the Galapagos Islands. The distribution of the bird has been affected by historical events, including human colonization of the islands and the introduction of non-native species.

These events have resulted in habitat destruction and the predation of the Galapagos Shearwater by non-native predators. Historically, the Galapagos Shearwater was widespread and abundant throughout the archipelago.

However, over time, the introduction of non-native species, such as rats and cats, have caused a significant decline in the population. These predators have been known to prey on nests and young birds, leading to a decline in the overall number of breeding pairs.

The colonization of the Galapagos Islands by humans has also had a significant impact on the distribution of the Galapagos Shearwater. The conversion of the natural habitat to agriculture and urbanization has led to the destruction of breeding sites and nesting habitats.

The introduction of invasive plant species to the islands has also caused changes in the ecosystem, altering food availability and nesting habitat.

Conservation Efforts

Given the decline in population and distribution of the Galapagos Shearwater, there have been several conservation efforts to protect the species. One of the most prominent efforts has been the eradication of non-native species, such as rats and cats, from the islands.

This has been achieved through the use of traps, poisoning, and the use of biocontrol agents such as an avian botulism vaccine. Another critical effort has been the restoration of natural habitats and the establishment of protected areas for the Galapagos Shearwater.

The Galapagos National Park, established in 1959, has been at the forefront of conservation efforts in the region. The park has established breeding programs for endangered species and implemented regulations to limit the impact of human activities on the ecosystem.

In recent years, there has been a growing focus on ecotourism as a means of conservation for the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Shearwater, being a unique species endemic to the islands, provides an excellent opportunity for visitors to witness the rich biodiversity of the region.

However, it is important to ensure that ecotourism activities are conducted sustainably and do not have a negative impact on the habitat of the Galapagos Shearwater or other species.


The Galapagos Shearwater is a unique seabird species that has undergone several taxonomic changes over the years. It is restricted to the waters around the Galapagos Islands and has been impacted by historical changes to the distribution of the bird.

However, through conservation efforts such as the eradication of non-native species and the establishment of protected areas, there is hope for the preservation of this species for future generations.


The Galapagos Shearwater is a seabird species endemic to the Galapagos Islands. The bird is found in the waters surrounding the archipelago, making use of various habitats depending on the time of year.

The species is known to breed on islands with rocky terrain, loose vegetation, and cliffs. During the non-breeding season, the bird is distributed throughout the waters surrounding the islands, utilizing different feeding habitats.

The Galapagos Shearwater makes use of a variety of habitat types during the breeding season. The birds make their nests in crevices and burrows among the rocky terrain of the islands.

The rocky terrain gives the birds protection from predators and helps keep the nesting sites cool. Adult birds on breeding grounds are found in the surrounding waters, feeding on fish, squid, and other prey items.

Movements and Migration

The Galapagos Shearwater is a non-migratory species. While the bird may change its range based on the season, it does not undertake seasonal migrations like other bird species.

During the breeding season, which usually occurs from February to September, the birds remain on the islands where they breed. They establish their nesting sites and remain there, coming and going to feed in nearby waters.

During the non-breeding season, which occurs from October to January, the birds scatter throughout waters around the archipelago in search of food. During this season, the Galapagos Shearwater can be found in different habitats, including offshore waters, estuaries, and bays.

Adults that have just finished breeding may remain in the area, while young birds post-fledging may disperse to other areas. The breeding behavior of the Galapagos Shearwater is influenced by various factors, including seasonal changes in weather patterns and food availability.

The timing of breeding is often related to the availability of food, with the breeding season starting when upwelling of nutrient-rich water occurs. This process brings food closer to the surface, making feeding easier for the birds.

Conservation Concerns

While the Galapagos Shearwater is not currently considered a threatened species, habitat destruction and human activities pose a significant threat to the bird’s continued survival. The loss of habitat due to urbanization, agriculture, and the introduction of invasive species can have a significant impact on the breeding and feeding habits of the bird.

Furthermore, overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices can negatively impact prey levels for the Galapagos Shearwater. The depletion of prey resources can lead to a decline in the overall health of the bird population, ultimately affecting their ability to breed successfully.


The Galapagos Shearwater is a unique seabird species that is endemic to the Galapagos Islands. The bird is well-adapted to the diverse habitats of the archipelago and plays an important role in the ecosystem.

While it is not currently considered an endangered species, habitat destruction, and human activities pose a significant threat to the bird’s continued survival. Through proper conservation efforts, such as the establishment of protected areas and sustainable fishing practices, we can ensure the preservation of the Galapagos Shearwater for future generations.

Diet and Foraging


The Galapagos Shearwater is a specialized predator, feeding mainly on small fish and squid. These birds are pelagic foragers, feeding on prey near the surface of the water in offshore waters, estuaries, and bays.

At night, they spend time sitting on the surface of the water, catching small fish and squid that come to the surface to feed. The Galapagos Shearwater feeds primarily by diving into the water from the air, using its wings to propel itself downwards.

These birds can dive up to 20 meters deep to catch prey, but more commonly, they hunt in the upper 10 meters of the water column. The bird has specialized salt glands to remove excess salt that accumulates from consuming seawater during its dives.


The Galapagos Shearwater’s diet consists of a variety of pelagic fish and squid species. The bird is known to feed on species such as the flying fish, sardines, chubs, and various species of squid.

The diet of these birds may change throughout the breeding season based on the availability of prey. During the breeding season, adult birds increase their feeding activity to bring food back to the nest to feed their young.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Galapagos Shearwater’s high metabolism and unique adaptations allow them to survive in the harsh marine environment of the Galapagos Islands. These birds have a high body temperature, which allows them to maintain a high metabolic rate and hunt in colder waters.

The bird also has a specialized nasal gland that helps maintain homeostasis by regulating salt and water balance in their bodies. The Galapagos Shearwater is also equipped with adaptations to minimize heat loss in cold water.

They have a thick layer of feathers that provide insulation and minimize heat loss. Additionally, their bill functions as a heat exchanger, allowing the birds to retain heat and warm their body.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Galapagos Shearwater uses a variety of calls and vocalizations to communicate with others of their species. The birds produce shrill, nasal calls that are audible in the early evening when birds are coming back to their burrows after foraging trips.

The birds also use different vocalizations during various phases of breeding to communicate with their mates, establish territory, and scare off predators. During the breeding season, Galapagos Shearwaters use specific calls to coordinate with their mates, allowing them to communicate the presence of food or their location at sea.

The birds also use different tones to express alarm and entice their chicks to feed, communicating with them to encourage them to leave the burrow. The Galapagos Shearwater is a vocal bird, and their calls are essential in their communication, especially when establishing territories, avoiding predators, and communicating with mates.

It is an important method for these birds to survive and has unique variations depending on the species’ location, their environmental conditions, and breeding phases.


The Galapagos Shearwater is a unique seabird species with many unique adaptations for its environment. The bird is a pelagic forager and feeds mainly on small fish and squid.

It has a specialized diet, which helps it thrive in the waters around the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Shearwaters also use unique vocalizations to communicate with their mates and establish territory.

Their calls play an important role in their communication and contribute to the species’ survival. With further research, our understanding of these birds can help develop conservation strategies to ensure the preservation of these seabirds for future generations.



The Galapagos Shearwater is a highly specialized bird when it comes to locomotion. It is an excellent flier with long, narrow wings that allow it to soar almost effortlessly for extended periods.

These birds can fly for thousands of kilometers without flapping their wings by using the strong winds to lift and glide. On land, the Galapagos Shearwater uses its slightly webbed feet to walk or stand on rocky terrain.

However, their primary locomotion on land is hopping or sliding on their bellies, which is often seen when they enter or exit their burrows.

Self Maintenance

The Galapagos Shearwater takes care of its feather requirements, primarily through preening, which helps remove dirt, salt, and parasites. The birds use their beaks to clean and align their plumes, and by doing so, they also distribute oil from their preen gland, which helps waterproof the feathers.

Agonistic Behavior

Galapagos Shearwaters display agonistic behavior when they encounter intruders or predators. These birds defend their breeding territories and nests aggressively, attempting to drive away the intruder using various displays, including bill-snapping, gaping, and hissing.

Sexual Behavior

The Galapagos Shearwater is a monogamous species, and pairs remain together throughout the breeding season. During the breeding season, males perform ritualized courtship displays in which they preen and approach their partners with their bills open.

Copulation occurs on land, and the pair mate for life, perhaps choosing the same nest site year after year.


Breeding occurs mainly in February to September. During the breeding season, birds gather in colonies to lay eggs and rear their young.

The birds lay a single bluish-white egg, which is incubated for about 48 days by both parents. After hatching, the chick is brooded and fed by the parents for 48 days.

Once the chick is fully feathered and can fly, it leaves the nest and heads out to sea.

Demography and Populations

The Galapagos Shearwater has a relatively small, stable population and a restricted range to the Galapagos Islands. There are thought to be around 9,000 pairs breeding within the islands, with the majority of birds breeding on Isla Espanola.

The Galapagos Shearwater faces several threats, including habitat loss, predation by non-native species, and the impact of climate change. While only localized declines have been recorded, the impact of these threats remains a long-term concern, and conservation efforts are crucial to protecting this species.

The Galapagos National Park has implemented several conservation measures to protect the Galapagos Shearwater’s habitat, including eradicating non-native predators from the islands, controlling introduced plant species, and establishing protected areas. These efforts have helped stabilize the bird population, allowing for continued opportunities for future generations to witness the unique biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands.


The Galapagos Island offers an opportunity to study the unique behavior, breeding, and population ecology of the Galapagos Shearwater. These birds are superb aviators and rely on their skills to locate and capture prey, navigate the ocean, and travel long distances.

The birds coping mechanisms for dramatic changes in temperature and environmental management, making it an exciting species to study. Conservation methods aimed at controlling habitat loss, predation, and non-native species injections have been helping to stabilize the bird population and ensure this unique

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