One of the world’s rarest birds. This cormorant, endemic to the Galapagos Islands, is flightless. Only found on these islands, there are about 1,600 individuals.
Cormorants in general have about 40 different species, found all over the world. They nest in colonies around coastal shores, and dive deeply for fish. Underwater they skillfully propel themselves with webbed feet.
They lack an oil gland for waterproofing their wings, so you will often see them drying their wings in the sun.
In the Galapagos, Phalacrocorax harrisi have evolved without wings. Living on shorelines rich with food, it was not necessary to travel to breeding grounds. In addition, there were no ground predators on the islands to instigate flight. Underwater, wings trap air. So they evolved wingless, flightless.
Over the centuries predators have come to the Galapagos Islands via visitors. Humans, cats, rats, dogs, and pigs can quickly destroy this bird that cannot fly away.
The population has fluctuated over the years.
At one time they were Endangered, but the species stabilized and they were downlisted to Vulnerable in 2011. Fortunately they are fast breeders.
The Charles Darwin Research station has been critical in sustaining populations of many wildlife species in the Galapagos, including the cormorant. Conservation efforts include eradication and monitoring programs, restriction of human visitation, and prevention of fishing nets.
More flightless cormorant info here.
Anyone living near the water sees cormorants all the time. We see them on the shoreline drying out their long, fully outstretched wings; or flying above the water.
It is a peculiar sensation, therefore, to see the same bird walking, with useless little wing stubs. I found myself unabashedly staring at them.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander