Galápagos Hawk

Description and biology

Hawks are members of the family that includes eagles, kites, and Old World vultures—all birds of prey. The Galápagos hawk is deep dark brown with lighter markings on its sides and belly. It has a gray tail with dark bars and a yellow, dark–tipped bill. An average adult measures 21 to 23 inches (53 to 58 centimeters) long.

While young sea iguanas form the bulk of its diet, this bird will also eat a variety of birds, rats, and lizards. It also feeds on carrion (decaying flesh of dead animals). While flying, the hawk soars to great heights, then swoops down on prey in a zig–zag pattern.

Galápagos hawks generally form groups that stake out or claim territory within their habitat. These groups consist of up to four males and one female. Some other Galápagos hawks form more standard male–female pairs.

Breeding takes place all year, with peak activity occurring between May and July. Females usually lay one to three eggs. After hatching, the young, or nestlings, are cared for by the males.

Habitat and current distribution

The Galápagos hawk is found only on the Galápagos Islands of Española, Fernandina, Isabela, Marcena, Pinta, Santa Cruz, Santa Fé, and Santiago. A province of Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands lie about 600 miles (965 kilometers) off the west coast of the country.

Biologists (people who study living organisms) are unsure of the total number of Galápagos hawks in existence, although they believe about 250 of the birds reside on Santiago Island.

The hawks prefer to nest in low trees or on rocky outcrops. Much of their range lies within the Galápagos National Park, which covers all areas of the islands that are uninhabited by humans.

History and conservation measures

Until the 1930s, the Galápagos hawk was found on almost all of the Galápagos Islands. It existed in such great numbers that it was considered a threat to domestic chickens. Eventually, though, the number of Galápagos hawks began to decline. This was the direct result of hunting by humans and the destruction of its habitat.

The hawk is now considered extinct on the Galápagos islands of Baltra, Daphne, Floreana, San Cristóbal, and Seymour. To date, biologists have no plans to reintroduce the Galápagos hawk to any of its former island habitats.