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The blue-eyed fishermen of Isabela and Fernandina

Drying wings in the sun

With glossy black feathers and piercing blue eyes, the Galápagos Flightless Cormorant (Phalacrocorax harisi) is a striking oddity. Only found in the Galapagos, this cormorant species has lost the ability to fly. With no need to escape natural land-based predators nor need to travel great distances for food, swimming skills and lower body strength became distinct advantages over flying. As a result of selective adaptation, its wings are only a third the size necessary to support flight. Cormorants live on a diet of fish, octopus and squid, swimming to the bottom to hunt for food. 

Seen most frequently standing with their wings outstretched, drying their feathers in the sun, cormorant feathers are not waterproof.  While this behavior is compulsory for its flying cousins, the Flightless Cormorant also dries its feathers in the same manner in an anachronistic holdover. 

One of the rarest birds, the Flightless Cormorant is found solely in the western Galápagos Islands along the northern and western shores of Isabela and eastern shore of Fernandina. 

With such small populations and limited range, Flightless Cormorants are particularly vulnerable to threats to their environment. Fishing nets are a specific hazard.  Both the Charles Darwin Research Station and Galapagos National Park monitor populations closely.

Nesting Flightless Cormorant with chick

Seen year round, breeding takes place between July and October.  Courtship begins at sea with males and females swimming around each other in graceful circles, with heads tucked together.  Couples then move ashore and continue their courtship display of alternately tucking heads together and flapping their wings.  Nests are built just above the high tide line from seaweed and gifts of plants, plastic or other debris brought by the male.  Typically two to three eggs are laid, however only one chick fledges.

Learn more about the Western Islands itinerary

A special cruise of the Western Islands

Observe Flightless Cormorants, marine iguanas, sea turtles penguins and more on a special cruise of the Western Islands with noted filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg this June.  Louie will be joining us on our June 20th Origins of Species cruise. Learn more about Louie and his films.

Save on 2016 voyages

If you're planning a Galápagos cruise next year, we're happy to extend 2015 pricing for any 2016 date* if booked and deposited by May 31st, 2015. Give our sales team a call to secure your space.
* excluding winter holiday dates.


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