Galapagos Flightless Cormorants: Birds that Swim!

Birds fly, fish swim, right? Not always. Flightless cormorants are the exception. All cormorant species are swimmers, but the Galapagos species has lost its ability to fly. Left with short, stubby wings and a limited geographical range, flightless cormorants are found only on Fernandina Island and along the western coast of Isabela Island. Watching this rare species in action will surely be one of the highlights of your trip to the Galapagos Islands!

Flightless cormorants – Birds that swim

All cormorant species can swim. In the ancient Chinese and Japanese practice of cormorant fishing, fishermen would spend years training the birds to dive into the water with a rope tied around their necks. Galapagos flightless cormorants have never been trained, but they are nevertheless good underwater fishermen! As you can see from the video below, flightless cormorants dive and swim like marine experts.

Video credit: donna27p

Flightless cormorants have special adaptations for swimming, including solid bones, and fur-like feathers.  They usually dive at depths of around 10-15 meters, but are capable of dives as deep as 80 meters.

Wings too small for flying

When cormorant birds adapted to the unique conditions of the Galapagos Islands, they lost their ability to fly. The Galapagos cormorant needed to develop a larger body for diving. The flightless cormorant still has wings, but they are short and stubby, and not large enough to hold up the weight of the flightless cormorant in the air.

In this video evolution scholar Richard Dawkins discusses the bird’s vestigial wings.

Video credit: Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science

Even though Galapagos flightless cormorants can’t fly, they make up for it by being amazing swimmers and fishers, moving amongst sea currents and schools of fish like absolute experts. They are just another example of the intricate ways of evolution. The flightless cormorant species had to adapt its body to its environment in order to survive. They are a living lesson on the importance of adaptability!

These strange and unique birds are one of the most iconic species of animals in the Galapagos. To see Galapagos cormorants you should check out options for taking one of our cruises through the western islands of the Galapagos that will allow you to stop at visitor sites on Fernandina and the western coast of Isabela. Keep in mind that Galapagos cormorants cannot be seen throughout the archipelago, but in these specific spots.

Why choose a cruise?

An expedition cruise is definitely the best way to see the islands and get up close and personal with Galapagos BIG15 wildlife. On our Santa Cruz Galapagos Cruise you will not only enjoy an outstanding service and amazing cuisine inspired by local and international flavors, you will have at your disposal activities ranging from kayaking, snorkeling, to our glass-bottom boat, if you don’t wish to get in the water. Our cruise will take you to remote parts of the archipelago not always accessible to single-guided boats, and thanks to our well-thought itinerary, on many occasions you will find you have the beaches and visiting sites all to ourselves.

Updated:May 10, 2023

Published:February 2, 2017


Machu Picchu & Galapagos Islands Tour 2024 Package: 12 days / Quito, Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu / From USD 9,598 per person



Condé Nast Traveler ONLINE

This small, secret rooftop of the restored Casa Gangotena mansion peers over Plaza San Francisco in the center of Quito’s colonial Old Town, the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Order a Cedrón Spritz, a refreshing mix of rum, lemon, sparkling wine, and fresh lemon verbena (cedrón) syrup and leaf, then revel in the mesmerizing, real-time montage of daily life in Ecuador’s capital as it parades past.

National Geographic Traveller

A Font of information, Klaus has spent decades in the field, leading tours in the Amazon, Andes and Galapagos Islands. He hung up his guiding boots a few years back and now creates itineraries for the tour operator, Metropolitan Touring. Adrift in the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from mainland South America, Galapagos is one of the most biodiverse locales on Earth.

Cruise Critic

Santa Cruz II is a replacement for the much-loved Santa Cruz, which plied the waters of the Galapagos for 36 years. It is not a new ship; it was built in 2002 and sailed as Mare Australis under the Australis cruise brand, operating expedition cruises around Cape Horn and to Antarctica. Metropolitan Touring bought the ship in 2015 and completely refurbished it, launching it as Santa Cruz II in October 2015.

Telegraph Ultra Travel: 50 Greatest Hotels in the World

When this modern, minimalist, glass-walled jungle lodge opened in 2012, it changed the accommodation game in South America. Arquitect Alfredo Ribadeneira’s “protective cocoon” would impress in a modern city; in the depths of an Andean cloudforest, it is wild, audacious and beautiful. Though only 70 miles from Quito, Maspi Lodge sits in splendid isolation, perched on a cliff at the end of an unsealed road.

Terms and Conditions

Itinerario de 5 días / 4 noches: Basado en la tarifa regular (4214 USD + impuestos por persona)
Itinerario de 7 días / 6 noches: Basado en la tarifa regular (5672 USD + impuestos por persona)
No reembolsable. Aplica únicamente para residentes ecuatorianos en nuevas reservas directas realizadas, hasta el 30 de junio del 2022, con un ejecutivo de ventas del hotel. Válido para estadías hasta el 31 de agosto de 2022. No puede ser combinada con otros descuentos, promociones u ofertas. El descuento no aplica para otros servicios. El precio no incluye recargo de combustible de $20 por noche de crucero.

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