A unique and secretive bird
What you need to know about the Galapagos Rail
The Galápagos Rail or (Galápagos Crake as it’s also known) is a small bird native to the islands that’s currently listed as vulnerable due to the damage caused by introduced non-native species.
This charming little creature is almost completely flightless, with short wings that can only sustain it in the air for a short distance. It’s mainly black in color, with a grey head and some white spots on its back. It has a stunning red eye which makes a beautiful contrast with its dark plumage.
You’re likely to hear a Galápagos Rail before you see it! They make a wide range of cries which your Galapatours guide will help you to identify. They live in the wetter grassland areas found at higher elevations on islands like Santiago, Santa Cruz and Sierra Negra, where they take advantage of the deep cover to hide out of the way and to hunt their mainly insect prey, with the occasional seed or berry thrown in for variety.
If you do hear a Rail close by then it’s very likely you’ll soon see it. Galápagos Rails are renowned for their curiosity and show very little fear of humans. They well well scuttle out of cover to come and take a look at you and your fellow adventurers.
The Galápagos Rail is listed as a vulnerable species mainly because of the threat from non-native introduced species who take advantage of the birds’ lack of fear. Because of its lack of flying ability the Rails are vulnerable to attack from feral cats, and their habitat was at risk from species like goats and pigs. Thankfully the mammal control operations of Galápagos National Park are managing the numbers of these predators and the Rail population is quickly able to recolonise areas where it had previously been driven from.
Galapagos Rail: Interesting facts
Galápagos Rails have long legs and long toes - perfect for walking and running
The Galápagos Rail's narrow body helps them to slip through dense cover with ease
The Galápagos Rail is found on Pinta, Fernandina, Isabela, Santiago, Santa Cruz, Floreana and San Cristobal islands
Galápagos Rails sometimes forage in shallow water, wading up to chest height and catching prey from the surface
Galapagos Rail: Pictures from our travelers
Spots where the Galapagos Rail can be observed
El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve
The inland areas of Santa Cruz provide fantastic opportunities to get close to wild Galápagos giant tortoises. These wonderful creatures can be seen roaming around in the agricultural fields, and also in the famous El Chato Tortoise Reserve, where the native vegetation is preserved.
The trail to the Reserve begins at Santa Rosa, about an hour's drive from Puerto Ayora, and during the dry season this is a haven for Giant Tortoises as they migrate from coastal to highland areas, and you can observe the natural behaviours of these truly wild animals.
There is a pond at El Chato that is often surrounded by tortoises, and sometimes even filled with them as they enjoy wallowing in the cool water. Surrounding the ponds are hundreds of acres of natural highland pasture and native Scalesia forest where you may encounter owls, Darwin’s finches, Vermilion Flycatchers, and Galápagos Rails.
For many Galapatours guests the highlight of their trip is following our expert guide into the ancient forest and then hearing heavy footsteps and crunching noises ahead, finally rounding a corner to see a truly wild Galápagos Giant tortoise doing what they have done for millennia before humans came to Galápagos.
La Galapaguera "Jacinto Gordillo Breeding Center"
Also known as Cerro Colorado, this is one of the newer visitor sites in Galápagos and was opened in 2003. Previously accessible only from the coast via a long hike, it's now possible to travel by road from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, where the trip takes about an hour.
This breeding station has an informative visitor center that allows you to learn about the origins and evolution of the Galápagos Giant Tortoises, and about the steps being taken to preserve the species from threats such as habitat destruction and introduced species.
In the center you will see baby hatchlings and young tortoises. After they reach 4 months old they are taken out to be released into the natural habitat in the area. There is a short hiking trail where you may be able to spot giant tortoises in the wild.
Santa Cruz Highlands
Santa Cruz is the only island on the Galápagos that allows you to travel through every habitat type that exists in the archipelago. This makes the journey north from the coast up into the highlands a fantastic opportunity to experience the breadth of life that exists on these islands.
Your bus journey starts from Puerto Ayora on the coast and you slowly start to climb through the agricultural zone where open fields begin to give way to lush, green, mist-covered forests. This is a marked contrast to many of the islands which are at much lower elevation and much more arid. This rich verdant landscape is predominantly made up of dense Scalesia forest.
Your expert Galapatours guide will stop several times along the route to allow you to explore various different sites. Among the stops will be a Giant Tortoise reserve, and also a visit to the famous lava tubes. Over half a mile long, a walk through these natural volcanic features is eerie and unforgettable.
Also along the way you will stop for refreshments, and you'll be able to try locally-grown Galápagos coffee - we think it's among the best we've ever tasted!
Sierra Negra Volcano
Sierra Negra is renowned as the most impressive volcano in the Galápagos. The crater is over 6 miles across and is the second largest in the world.
However, to visit the volcano is quite a logistical effort. The only way to get there is to start with a 45 minute drive from Villamil to a trailhead from where you can follow another 2 hours of trails up to and along part of the rim.
There's also the option to walk on quite recent lava flows, as the so-called parasitic cone of Volcan Chico last erupted in 1979 leaving large flows to cool to rock.
The journey is well worth the effort, as the views from the rim of Sierra Negra are simply stunning. You can see across the other volcanoes on Isabela and across to Fernandina.
Your expert Galapatours guide will explain in detail about the geological processes that shaped not only this part of Isabela, but of the whole Galápagos.