Islands of the Vampire Birds
"Islands of the Vampire Birds" is the story of how a tiny finch made its way to a barren group of islands in the Pacific and evolved into one of the most fascinating groups of birds on earth.
Tens of millions of years ago undersea volcanoes rose from the floor of the Pacific to form the Galapagos Islands, a thousand kilometres off the coast of South America. The islands were harsh and unforgiving. Though normally dry, they occasionally experienced long periods of torrential rain. Frequent eruptions combined with the fierce tropical sun, and a constantly changing landscape pushing evolutionary changes to the extreme.
The first colonisers came from the deep waters around the archipelago - large schools of hammerheads, whale sharks accompanied by jacks and suckerfish, green turtles, corals and many kinds of reef fish. Later reptiles arrived and today land and marine iguanas and giant tortoises dominate the landscape, creatures found nowhere else. Vast numbers of seabirds breed along the coastline including penguins, flightless cormorants, boobies, tropic and frigate birds and albatross. Land birds, including a finch, arrived too - perhaps blown by a strong wind from South America - and, over time, they evolved into many new species.
They are called Darwin's finches - made famous by the British naturalist Charles Darwin who visited the Galapagos Islands more than a century ago. It was his experience with the finches and the other strange creatures that live there that inspired his theory of evolution. Darwin found that each kind of finch has evolved a uniquely shaped beak according to the food it eats. Some eat seeds, others nectar and pollen. One kind rolls the eggs of seabirds whose shells are too thick to crack with their small bill. To get at the contents they have learnt to push the eggs over ledges and down steep slopes until they break open.
The two northern-most islands of the archipelago are home to the most bizarre kind of finch of all, the vampire finch. It pecks the skin of seabirds, making them bleed and then drinks their blood. It is the vampire finch of the Galapagos.
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