The Galápagos are this winter visitor's most southerly home
What you need to know about the Belted Kingfisher
The Belted Kingfisher is a winter visitor to the Galápagos, where it travels from North America! It’s not fully understood how the first Belted Kingfishers made their way all the way to Galápagos, but it’s most likely that a small migrating group were blown well off course on migration and were lucky to make landfall here.
The Galápagos is the most southerly recorded migration for the Belted Kingfishers, and so a sighting whilst on the archipelago is noteworthy for most birdwatchers! Although the population in the Galápagos hasn’t been well-studied, it does appear that the birds don’t arrive every winter, although the reason for this isn’t yet known.
If the Kingfishers do pay a visit to the Galápagos they tend to frequent the lagoons on Isabela and San Cristobal Islands, and when they are in residence they are the only kingfisher species on the islands.
The Belted Kingfishers have the typical kingfisher look, with stocky body and a long, heavy bill. The birds are about a foot long, and will most often be seen perched on branches or other suitable lookout points close to the water’s edge where they look for fish close to the surface. Once they spot a likely target, they will be off with a flash of wings and plunge headfirst into the water to catch their prey, which as well as fish also includes small crustaceans and insects.
As a winter visitor, your expert Galapatours guides will be on the lookout for Belted Kingfishers if you visit the islands between October and April and will point them out to you if they are spotted. We hope you’ll be lucky and can add a sighting of this bird in its most southerly recorded winter habitat!
Belted Kingfisher: Interesting facts
This is the only species of Kingfisher ever recorded in the Galápagos
Female Belted Kingfishers are more drab than the males
Belted Kingfishers head south for winter. Those in Galápagos are the most southerly migrants ever recorded
Although their diet is primarily fish and small crustaceans, Belted Kingfishers will also take insects, reptiles, and small mammals
Belted Kingfisher: Pictures from our travelers
Spots where the Belted Kingfisher can be observed
A walk on Santa Fe
Santa Fe is a small, flat island right in the center of the Galápagos archipelago, and is thought to be one of the oldest volcanoes here. Dating of the rocks below the water estimates they were formed almost 4 million years ago.
Santa Fe had it's own breed of Giant Tortoise that became extinct at some point in the 1800s due to being hunted for meat. There are two species that are unique to the island still present here - the Santa Fe Land Iguana, and the Santa Fe Rice Rat.
There is one visitor site on Santa Fe, and you will have a panga ride to a wet landing on the beach at Barrington Bay on the island's north coast. From here there are two hiking trails. One is a short loop close to the beach that takes you into an Opuntia forest filled with these massive cactus. This is the best opportunity to see the Santa Fe land iguanas and also other species such as Galápagos Hawks.
The second trail is a tougher proposition as it climbs quite steeply to the top of a cliff from where you will enjoy stunning views over the island's unspoilt interior.
Back on the beach you can join the Galápagos Sea Lions who often play in the waves and you can enjoy some wonderful snorkeling in the clear blue-green waters here.
Kicker Rock (or Leon Dormido, "sleeping lion", locally) is an iconic feature of Galápagos geology, and is one of the most popular photograph opportunities in the archipelago.
Kicker Rock is the remains of a volcanic "tuff cone". Tuff cones are formed when hot magma meets cold seawater, and the resulting explosion forms the rocky structure seen today. Over countless years erosion has caused a split, opening a narrow channel that small boats can sail completely through, and offering an amazing view as you sail around this 490ft tall monolith!
As you navigate around the rock you will see Galápagos Blue-Footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, and Frigatebirds as they launch themselves from their roosts in the cliffs high above.
Marine life here is plentiful, and you may spot hammerhead sharks, green turtles and a whole variety of tropical fish, particularly if your boat includes a snorkeling stop here as some do.
Lobos Island is named after the colony of Galápagos Sea Lions that live here, but they aren't the only native Galápagos species that calls this narrow island home. You can see Galápagos Fur Seals basking here, and there is a nesting colony of Blue-Footed Boobies that come to Lobos each year to raise their chicks.
There are one or two short hiking trails that lead into the center of the island, and this is always a peaceful place to visit. Galapatours visitors tell us it's one of their favorite visitor sites to just sit and soak up the Galápagos atmosphere.
Back on the beach, the swimming and snorkeling is wonderful, and thanks to the island's position close to the main shore of San Cristobal, the channel between them is sheltered and the turquoise water is crystal clear. This is a Galapatours favorite spot, so speak to one of our Galápagos specialists if you want help choosing an itinerary that includes a visit to this special place.
Pitt Point, or Punta Pitt, is at the far eastern edge of San Cristobal. Following a wet landing directly onto the beach you'll be welcomed by the friendly and noisy barking of the local colony of Galápagos Sea Lions! This is actually a bachelor colony of males who haven't held a breeding territory, and they can sometimes be the worse for wear if they have been fighting on one of the breeding beaches elsewhere.
After the noise of the beach, a quieter path takes us up the cliffs to a breeding site used by all 3 resident species of booby - the Blue-Footed, Red-Footed and Nazca Boobies. Nowhere else in the Galápagos do all three species nest side-by-side like this.
As well as this unique booby colony you can also see Galápagos Frigatebirds and petrels. In addition to the wonderful bird life, the view down to the beach and across the island from this high vantage point make the climb worth it.
The hiking trail lets you get a close look at the Saltbush and other tough shrubs that manage to survive in this sometimes eerie volcanic landscape. Your Galapatours guide will be able to explain in detail how hardy plants such as these colonise the lava fields all over the Galápagos.