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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 21:23 EDT

Galapagos Hawk

The Galápagos Hawk (Buteo galapagoensis) is a bird of prey native to the Galápagos Islands. It is the only original predator on the islands and is fearless towards humans. It has inhabited the Galápagos archipelago for over 300,000 years. The population is in decline and estimates place the population at around 150 mating pairs. Due to human disturbance, dwindling food supply, and introduction of new predatory species, the Galápagos Hawk is now extinct on the islands of Baltra, Daphne, Floreana, San Cristobal, and Seymour.

The Galápagos Hawk is about 21.75 inches long with a wingspan of 47.25 inches. The female is noticeably larger than the male as with most species of bird of prey. The mature adult is a sooty brown-black bird with slightly darker crown. Pale brown, gray, or beige feathers line the edge of the mantle. The tail is silvery gray. The bill is grayish black. The legs and feet are yellow. The young are blackish-brown and mottled with beige and white and a black streak extending from the corners of their mouth. The bill is blue-gray and the feet are pale yellow-green. The male and female adults are similar in appearance. The call is a series of short “keer, keeu,” screams or an inflected “kwee”. Especially noisy during breeding season, their call softens to a “kilp, kilp, kilp”.

There is no regular breeding season for this species as its habitat lies so close to the equator. Mating takes place a few times a day on a nearby perch or in flight. The male will make false attacks on the female by dive bombing her from behind and then follows her as she descends into the trees below. Males will typically breed with only one female, however, females will mate with up to seven different males throughout the mating season. The female and all her males take turns protecting the nest and eggs, and also feeding once the eggs are hatched.

The nest is built low in trees, on lava ledges, or even the ground. Nests are reused through many years and can become quite large (up to 4 feet in diameter). The nest is a structure of sticks lined with grass, bark, clumps of leaves, or other soft materials. The nest is maintained constantly with fresh, green twigs. Normally one to three eggs are laid, green-white in color, but only one young is reared. Fledging occurs 50 to 60 days after hatching. The juveniles will not enter the territorial breeding areas until they reach the age of three when they become sexually mature. Though these birds are fearless, they will abandon their nest if it has been tampered with by humans.

The diet of the Galápagos Hawk consists mainly of insects such as locusts and giant centipedes. It will also consume lava lizards, snakes and rodents. It is also not uncommon for it to feed on young marine animals and land iguanas, sea turtles and tortoise hatchlings. It will even steal the eggs and young from Fork-tailed Gull nest sites. Extremely rancid carrion is even picked apart for food when necessary. They hunt in groups of two to three individuals and will soar up high (150 to 650 feet) while searching for food. When one bird spots prey, it signals to the others. The dominant hawk of the group will feed first until it is satisfied, s the other hawks in the group submissively wait their turn to feed. Though it will hunt from a high perch, it may do so from the ground as well.

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Galapagos Hawk