The Vampires of the Galapagos

Do vampires exist? We’ve all seen the movies and read the books of course, but we are talking real life here.

What about vampire bats, we hear you ask. While they live in Central and South America, they are not in the Galapagos. So what are we talking about?

The terrifying ground vampire finch of course!

It’s not all about the diving

We all know the diving in Galapagos is out of this world. While onboard Galapagos Master you can see schools of hammerheads, hordes of Galapagos sharks, turtles by the dozen, regular whale sharks, numerous rays, and more. Even above the surface you can see unique wildlife. Galapagos fur seals lounging here there and everywhere, sun bathing marine iguanas, and of course the giant tortoises.

Then there are the birds. The bird-watching in the archipelago can be as fascinating as underwater. Among the 30 endemic species on the Galapagos checklist there are flightless cormorants, blue-footed boobies, and Galapagos penguins. Watching them certainly makes it very interesting to observe them during your surface interval.

But what about watching something really rare? Well, way off to the north of Galapagos is the only place on the planet you can see the vampire ground finch. These endemic finches live in an area of only 0.68 km2 on Darwin and Wolf Islands. This is an area slightly bigger than Liberty Island, where the statue of Liberty stands, but smaller than the Mount St-Michel in France. And yes, they really are vampires.

Blood Thirsty © Thomas P Peschak – Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Who are the vampires of the Galapagos?

During the wet season, like many other birds, vampire ground finches consume mainly insects and seeds. But as the seasons change their regular food sources can become scarce. In a perfect example of evolution, these tiny finches have adapted to survive.

When times are tough, the vampires of the Galapagos climb on the back of larger birds, like Nazca and red-footed boobies. Once they are aboard they start pecking gently at their skin with their sharp beaks until blood is drawn. Once the blood flows, the feeding begins.

Their diet is not the only unusual thing about these vulnerable birds. The finches generally feed on larger birds in groups of 3 or 4, working together as a team. One climbs on the back (to begin pecking it) while the others observe the scene, youngsters learning the technique and patiently waiting their turn to eat. This makes life easier for the finches, but also minimised damage to their prey.

It’s also worth noting that the vampire ground finches only resort to this feeding method when they cannot find alternative food. Weirdly enough, the larger birds do not see to mind this strange behaviour and often do not offer resistance.

A varied diet for health

With only a tiny area where they can select their food, the finches are experts at varying their diets. Drinking blood is not the only unusual feeding habit they have. They are also professionals when it comes to stealing eggs. They like them freshly laid and push them against rocks until they break.

It appears that they also have a bit of a sweet tooth (or sweet beak?). Vampire finches have been seen gorging on the flower nectar from the prickly Galápagos pear.

Galapagos Prickly Pear © Dallas Krentzel

It just goes to show, uniqueness is everywhere in Galapagos. When you’re planning your next trip with Master Liveaboards, remember to pack your binoculars and to keep your eyes open. Even on the surface intervals. The vampires of the Galapagos will be waiting for you.

Main header image – Vampire Finch © Peter Wilton

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