When Charles Darwin first came upon the Galapagos Islands, he wasn't as impressed with the diversity of bird life he found there as is widely believed. It was later, at home, that his observations of the beaks of finches led him toward his revolutionary theory of evolution. Still, the finches of the Galapagos have an unparalleled place in the minds of conservationists.
Now, on the island of Santiago, the fourth largest in the Galapagos Archipelago, a bird resurgence is poised to begin. And it's all because of goats.
More accurately, it was the decline in local finches resulted from the feral goats released on the island in the 1920s. In their first 70 years, they chewed through every bit of brush on the 226-square-mile island (that's about the size of Manhattan and Galveston islands combined). In their wake: grass ... and fewer birds.
The story of the Galapagos is that similar species developed unique adaptations to living on different islands, each with different habitats. For instance, the woodpecker finch, on Santiago Island, learned to use a twig, stick, or cactus spine as a tool to dislodge grubs and insects from trees. (Woodpecker finch photo by Sonia Kleindorfer, courtesy of American Bird Conservancy.)
The island was declared goat-free in February, after the largest "invasive mammal eradication" effort ever completed, according to the American Bird Conservancy. Now, the birds are free to return, following the island's shrubs and trees.