Nesting Flightless Cormorants in Galapagos

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Flightless Cormorant

During this time of year, visitors can see flightless cormorants in Galapagos nesting. A valued member of our Galapagos BIG15 group of iconic species, this scarce and wholly indigenous bird species is flightless but has feathers. This is the year when the flightless cormorants in Galapagos nest and raise their young, especially when the Dry Season is just beginning (or ending).

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An Essential Step for Hatching…

How flightless cormorants express interest in one another is interesting. During courtship, the couple swims together in the water, closely around one other, with their necks twisted into “s” forms against their bodies. They go onto the land and start constructing their nest if the two are compatible.

The actual nest is often made up of tiny fragments of whatever natural material they can find, such as seaweed, branches, rocks, and other detritus. They cooperate well, and as a result, their nest is located relatively near the coast.  Sea surface temperatures are generally substantially lower during this time of year, a natural event that draws in many deep-sea nutrients and, consequently, marine food, making this period ideal and encouraging for them to spawn.  

A couple of flightless cormorants in Galapagos nesting.
A couple of flightless cormorants in Galapagos nesting.

Fun Fact: Male flightless cormorants nesting in Galapagos often bring small “gifts” to their female counterpart which she accepts and then adds to the nest. The gifts are again pieces of nature that are practical items for the nest itself.

Nesting Flightless Cormorants in Galapagos

There’s more buddy romance and collaboration to come. Typically, the female lays three pale eggs, which are subsequently incubated alternately by both pairings. Despite their best efforts, it is relatively uncommon for only one egg to hatch. Both parents will alternate care for them after hatching to keep their young safe from the weather and predators. While both parents will seek food during this period, the female typically manages to supply about twice as much as the male. 

A female flightless cormorant brooding.
A female flightless cormorant brooding.

It takes a chick about 70 days to become completely independent after being brooded. One unusual characteristic of the flightless cormorant is that females have been known to leave their nests when food and resources become excessively plentiful. She gives the father full parental responsibility while she goes on to rekindle her relationship with a different man and has another clutch. This indicates that while a female can have several broods in a single season, it is uncommon because food does not usually rise to such large proportions. 

A couple of flightless cormorants with its chick spotted in Galapagos.
A couple of flightless cormorants with its chick spotted in Galapagos.

Flightless cormorants have an average age of 13 years, are listed as a vulnerable species but have a 90% survival rate in the Galapagos.

Video by Lawrence Troup

Witnessing and observing flightless cormorants nesting in the Galapagos is an experience to be noticed. This rare species is only visible on the Western Islands route of the Santa Cruz II Galapagos voyage, namely on the islands of Fernandina and Isabela.

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Updated:June 10, 2024

Published:September 22, 2017

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