Galapagos Cormorant

Flightless Cormorant, Galapagos Islands

Flightless Cormorant, Galapagos Islands

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.


Pair on nest with juvenile in center

Pair on nest with juvenile in center

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.


Australasian Darter, cormorant relative

Australasian Darter, cormorant relative

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.


Flightless-Cormorant,-profileI don’t think they minded.  They knew they were very special.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander



47 thoughts on “Galapagos Cormorant

  1. Even our local Cormorants always make a friendly visit but sure would like to visit the Galapagos– what great adventures you have had!!!

  2. the Galapagos Cormorant is so cute! I have never seen it before. The cormorants in black color is very popular in Texas Gulf coast. Thank you, Jet for sharing the information and lovely photos. 🙂

    • Hi Amy. Yes, we are lucky to have plentiful cormorants, and the TX Gulf has many. Thanks so much for your kind comment, I’m happy you enjoyed today’s post. I enjoyed your nesting flickers so much today, too.

    • Yes, it was very interesting to see cormorants with wing stubs. So glad you enjoyed the flightless cormorant today, Myriam — I appreciate your visit and kind words.

  3. Such great adventures you’ve had. Our Cormorants are goofy enough with their penchant for drying their armpits, but these guys are really special. It’s good that they’re being protected since they are so vulnerable.

    • Your comment made me chuckle, Gunta, regarding the cormorants’ “goofy…penchant.” I’m glad you see how special the flightless ones are. BTW Even though they have short wing stubs, the flightless cormorants dry their little wings out too. lol. Always a pleasure to hear from you.

  4. Jet as I read this post and gazed at the birds I couldn’t help but think what a different trip to the Galapagos we might have had if you and Athena had been there. Or at least if we had you set up on Skype. ” What is this one do you think?” “How about this one?” I am going to go through our photos to see if I can spot these flightless wonders.

    • You know, Sue, I was wondering if you might have seen these when you and Dave were there recently. If you saw any cormorants, or got photographs, they are the flightless. Our boat guide for that trip (assigned by Ecuador) was not a birder, and Athena and I were the only birders in the group of 12; so we had to do our own bird guiding. But we did well, and we lingered long at these flocks. I’m happy you enjoyed it.

  5. It sounds like being a fast breeder is an advantage in some circumstances! Thank goodness. I think I’d probably stare at them as well.

    • Yes it is an advantage here, Jan. They are a curious bird, interesting to watch. Thanks so much, my friend, as always, for your comments and visit today.

    • I’m so glad you found it interesting, Sharon. The cormorant is fascinating to watch, especially when they’re frolicking among a hundred marine iguana, and not intimidated. Thanks so much for stopping by today, always a treat.

  6. Even though you knew what you were going to see, what an unusual sight! Hard to tear yourself away from such a rare bird – I’d stare. Thanks for sharing, Jet, enjoyed this surprise!

    • Yes, the rest of the group were all non-birders, and one of the rules was that we all had to stay together. Even though the guide wanted to get moving, we kept taking pictures of this supremely rare bird. I’m so glad we did, because we didn’t see another big flock of cormorants again. I’m happy you enjoyed it. My thanks for your visit~~

  7. Very interesting how this bird has adapted to its environment! I understand it was a special feeling to watch it. Thank you for sharing, Jet.

  8. I’d never heard of these before. What extraordinary creatures, with their feeble little wings. And yet how cormorant-like. Darwin certainly found the right place for his researches! RH

  9. Fascinating post with this very extraordinary cormorant species,dear Jet!One might feel sad seeing them with their little cut wings and unable to flight,but from the information you have provided in here,I can see that nature has endowed them with other powerful abilities.Athena has taken magnificent photos,I so much like the family photo with the little one posing in the centre!Here in Greece,we see lots of Pygmy cormorants in wetlands where there are Herons and Spoonbills as well.Best wishes for a wonderful Memorial Sunday,dear friend 🙂 * ^ * ~ xx X * ^ *

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the unique Galapagos cormorant, Doda. Yes, they have many abilities and skills that make up for the flying; and they evolved in accordance with their surroundings. I liked hearing about the pygmy cormorants in Greece. I learned that the pygmy is the smallest cormorant, and the Galapagos is the largest. And so many other species in between. Always a treat to hear from you, dear Doda. Thank you so much for your visits and comments today. “/” ♥♥♥

  10. What a special bird! I am so glad to learn that their population is not endangered anymore. I am going to visit their cousins on Saltee Island in the middle of June. Sea birds are amazing. Thank you for sharing this story and photographs!

    • I agree, Lloyd. It’s so wonderful that these cormorants are still on this earth with us, and they’re really unusual to watch. Most of us who are near the sea are familiar with the preening motions of cormorants, but these with their little stubby wings and they flutter-walk are really unique. Thanks for stopping by.

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