Dr Sarah Darwin, one of Charles Darwin’s great-great-granddaughters is spearheading our campaign to shine a light on the threats facing the land birds of Galapagos.
This collective group of birds, which include the finches and mockingbirds, and fondly known as “Darwin’s birds”, first grew to fame due to Charles Darwin’s visit in 1835 and subsequent theory of evolution by natural selection.
Approximately 80% of the birds found in Galapagos are endemic and therefore cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Devastatingly, nearly half of these are now at risk of extinction (according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species). These include the critically endangered mangrove finch, Floreana mockingbird and the medium tree finch, as well as the San Cristobal mockingbird, recorded as endangered. Many more are listed as vulnerable including the little vermilion flycatcher.
Dr Sarah Darwin, who is a botanist said, “As an Ambassador of Galapagos Conservation Trust, I am aware of the incredibly important work that the Trust has undertaken since it was launched almost 25 years ago. I have been fortunate to visit the Galapagos Islands on several occasions, as part of my work as an artist and scientist. I observed many of these land birds at close quarters whilst undertaking fieldwork in Galapagos, some eating the very plants which I was trying to study! I can see the pressing need for urgent action to protect them in their native habitat.”
Supporters who donate £300 or more to this appeal, will receive a limited edition print, signed by Sarah Darwin, of her Galapagos botanical illustrations undertaken for Nigel Sitwell’s field guide. (ten available).
Due to threats from invasive species (non-native species that impact negatively on the surrounding environment), such as rats, feral cats and the Philornis downsi fly, the number of land birds has been steadily decreasing, with less than 100 individuals left within some species, such as the beloved mangrove finch. Of the resident land birds in Galapagos, almost all of them are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else on Earth, which makes them even more vulnerable to invasive species.
At the top of the page, you will see the beautiful vermilion flycatcher with his vibrant red underparts and crown, and if you’ve visited Galapagos, you may have been lucky enough to see one yourself. The males, with their striking red plumage, are the brightest land birds on the Archipelago and are a favourite among visitors. However, their population is declining at a rapid rate and the species is already extinct on both Floreana and San Cristobal and close to extinction on Santa Cruz island.
P. downsi flies are one factor causing the decline of the vermilion flycatcher. As well as this, decreasing habitat quality due to invasive plant species such as mora, a black raspberry plant, with such dense thickets that protein and fat rich invertebrates on the ground cannot be reached by the birds. This lack of access to food on the ground eventually leads to nest abandonment by the females, limiting breeding success for vermilion flycatchers on Santa Cruz.
GCT is supporting a new project with the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation, aiming to prevent the extinction of these beautiful birds with a three-year programme. Efforts will include restoring six hectares of Scalesia forest, prime habitat for the vermillion flycatcher made up of giant daisy trees; evaluating if predator control increases nesting success; and attempting to reduce P. downsi larvae infestation in nests with insecticide use.
Another project that GCT is supporting will culminate with the reintroduction of the Floreana mockingbird, extinct from its original home of Floreana island due to habitat loss and predation by invasive species. Now only found on the nearby islets of Champion and Gardener, this crucial project aims to reintroduce locally extinct species including the Floreana mockingbird with the hope to increase numbers of the global population.