Galapagos Wildlife | < 1 MIN READ

Galapagos Flightless Cormorants: Birds that Swim!

User Avatar Written by: Christopher Klassen
A couple of flightless cormorants with its chick in Galapagos.

Birds fly, fish swim, right? Not always. Flightless cormorants are the exception. All cormorant species are swimmers, but the Galapagos species has lost its ability to fly. Left with short, stubby wings and a limited geographical range, flightless cormorants are found only on Fernandina Island and along the western coast of Isabela Island. Watching this rare species in action will surely be one of the highlights of your trip to the Galapagos Islands!

Flightless cormorants – Birds that swim

All cormorant species can swim. In the ancient Chinese and Japanese practice of cormorant fishing, fishermen would spend years training the birds to dive into the water with a rope tied around their necks. Galapagos flightless cormorants have never been trained, but they are nevertheless good underwater fishermen! As you can see from the video below, flightless cormorants dive and swim like marine experts.

Video credit: donna27p

Flightless cormorants have special adaptations for swimming, including solid bones, and fur-like feathers.  They usually dive at depths of around 10-15 meters, but are capable of dives as deep as 80 meters.

Wings too small for flying

When cormorant birds adapted to the unique conditions of the Galapagos Islands, they lost their ability to fly. The Galapagos cormorant needed to develop a larger body for diving. The flightless cormorant still has wings, but they are short and stubby, and not large enough to hold up the weight of the flightless cormorant in the air.

In this video evolution scholar Richard Dawkins discusses the bird’s vestigial wings.

Video credit: Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science

Even though Galapagos flightless cormorants can’t fly, they make up for it by being amazing swimmers and fishers, moving amongst sea currents and schools of fish like absolute experts. They are just another example of the intricate ways of evolution. The flightless cormorant species had to adapt its body to its environment in order to survive. They are a living lesson on the importance of adaptability!

These strange and unique birds are one of the most iconic species of animals in the Galapagos. To see Galapagos cormorants you should check out options for taking one of our cruises through the western islands of the Galapagos that will allow you to stop at visitor sites on Fernandina and the western coast of Isabela. Keep in mind that Galapagos cormorants cannot be seen throughout the archipelago, but in these specific spots.

Why choose a cruise?

An expedition cruise is definitely the best way to see the islands and get up close and personal with Galapagos BIG15 wildlife. On our Santa Cruz Galapagos Cruise you will not only enjoy an outstanding service and amazing cuisine inspired by local and international flavors, you will have at your disposal activities ranging from kayaking, snorkeling, to our glass-bottom boat, if you don’t wish to get in the water. Our cruise will take you to remote parts of the archipelago not always accessible to single-guided boats, and thanks to our well-thought itinerary, on many occasions you will find you have the beaches and visiting sites all to ourselves.