The Galapagos hawk is a large rare raptor native to the Galapagos Islands. This beautiful bird is known for its fearlessness towards humans. Adult Galapagos hawks are generally sooty brownish-black in color with the crown being slightly blacker than the back. Their feathers of the mantle are partially edged with paler brown, grey, or buff, with their white bases showing to some extent. Their tail coverts are also barred with white. The tail itself is silvery grey above, with about ten narrow black bars; below it is quite pale. The wing feathers are paler on inner webs, barred with white. The eyes are brown, the beak greyish black, paler at its base which is known as the 'cere', legs and feet are yellow. The males are smaller than the females, as with many birds of prey. Their young appear different from adults because they are darker and have camouflage which aids them in remaining protected from potential predators until they are fully grown.
Galapagos hawks are native to most of the Galapagos Islands. They inhabit tropical dry forests and mountain peaks, shrublands, shoreline, and bare lava-fields.
Galapagos hawks are resident throughout their range and never migrate. These are diurnal and social birds. They hunt in groups of two or three soaring at a height of 50 to 200 meters in the sky. When one of the birds spots prey or a rotting carcass, they signal to the other members. The dominant hawk of the group feeds from the prey until it is satisfied, while the other hawks in the family group submissively wait their turn to feed. Galapagos hawks are apex predators and possess excellent vision; they prefer to perch on a lava outcrop or high branch when hunting and also spend some of their time on the ground. Fearless of man, the young are especially quite curious and often wander around human camps and scavenge for scraps of food. Galapagos hawks communicate with a series of short screams that have been described as a “keer, keeu,” or an inflected “kwee”. Especially noisy during mating season, their call softens to a “kilp, kilp, kilp”.
Galapagos hawks are carnivores and scavengers. They feed mainly on insects such as locusts and giant centipedes, as well as small lava lizards, snakes, rodents and carrion. They will also take marine and land iguanas, sea turtles and tortoise hatchlings. These predators also steal birds' eggs as well as their young.
Galapagos hawks have a unique mating system. While males tend to be monogamous, the females are polyandrous and may mate with up to seven different males during the mating season. Throughout the entire nesting period, these males will help to protect the nest and incubating the eggs and even feed the chicks. Galapagos hawks don't have a regular mating season and breed throughout the year. During the courtship, males make fake attacks on the female from behind by dive-bombing her, and then the male follows the female as she descends to the trees below. Galapagos hawks build their nests low in trees, on lava ledges, or even on the ground at times. Stick structures are lined with grass, bark, clumps of leaves, or other available soft materials. The mating pair is together the majority of the time at the prime of the egg-laying season and usually stays close to the nesting site. The nest is maintained constantly with fresh, green twigs. The female usually lays 1 to 3 green-white eggs, but only one young is reared. The incubation period lasts about 38 days. The chick fledges around 50-60 days after hatching and leaves the territory at 3 to 4 months of age. Youg Galapagos hawks reach their reproductive maturity and breed for the first time when they are 3 years old.
The main threats to Galapagos hawks include human disturbance to their natural habitat, competition for food with introduced predators, and heavy persecution by people.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total Galapagos hawk population size is around 400-500 individuals, which is roughly equivalent to 270-330 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List, but its numbers today remain stable.
Galapagos hawks are top predators through their range and play a very important role in nature. These beautiful raptors help to control populations of their prey items, thus maintaining a healthy balance in the ecosystem.