A Closer Look at the Intriguing Galapagos Hawk

The Galapagos hawk is found exclusively in the Galapagos Islands. The adult Galapagos hawk is almost completely different shades of brown and the female is larger than the male with an average size of 56 cm in length. It is one of the few terrestrial predators on the islands and has no natural enemies.

Their nests, which they usually build in trees, become fairly large over time as they are re-used at each breeding season, with some new twigs added each time. The Galapagos hawk has earned a reputation in the avian world as a notorious non-conformist due to its rare mating system known as polyandry – one female with multiple male mates. The Galapagos hawk female is known to have up to four mates at a time. This unusual mating system is reportedly only found in 12 out of 9,000 bird species in the world. All the males in the relationship assist in caring for the eggs and the hatchlings.

The Galapagos hawk is both a hunter and a scavenger. No other bird of prey is known to be as fearless as the Galapagos hawk as it hunts down just about anything smaller than itself that moves including lizards, young iguanas, doves, rats, centipedes, grasshoppers and other birds. As a scavenger it will also feed on virtually any dead animal such as marine iguanas, sea lions, sea birds and even fish that may wash up on the beach. The young Galapagos hawk is known to be very curious and visitors may find a Galapagos hawk getting too close for comfort in order to take a good look.

The Swainson’s hawk, which resides in the prairie regions of North America, migrating annually to South America for the winter months, is the closest relative of the Galapagos hawk. Because of their nearly identical mitochondrial DNA, they are often referred to as sister species. It is feasible that the Swainson’s hawk could have been blown off course during its annual migration and landed on the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, thereafter adapting to its environment. Despite the close genetic relationship between these two hawks though, unlike the Galapagos hawk, the Swainson’s hawk is a monogamous breeder. More recent research being carried out on the DNA sequences of feather lice taken from the Galapagos hawk is giving further insight into its evolutionary history. By tracing the family tree of the feather lice, scientists are demonstrating how symbionts of larger species can reveal a great deal about the history of that species. It will be interesting to see what future discoveries will be made about this interesting bird, the Galapagos hawk.