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A sea bird from below with black feathers around the edges of its wings and a white breast with the ocean in the background.
Information icon Black-capped petrel off the coast of Cape Hatteras, NC. Photo © Brian Patteson,, used with permission.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes Endangered Species Act protection for “little devil” Caribbean seabird

Proposal to list the black-capped petrel as threatened includes a special rule to eliminate unnecessary permitting restrictions

The future is uncertain for the black-capped petrel, a seabird that breeds in remote mountains on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola and forages in open ocean waters up the U.S. Eastern Seaboard as far north as off the coast of Virginia.

After reviewing the best available scientific and commercial data in a peer-reviewed species status assessment (SSA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined the petrel is a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), meaning it is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

Known locally as “chathuant” (meaning cat hooting) or “diablotin” (meaning little devil) because of its eerie nighttime calls, the petrel is difficult to survey because the birds are highly mobile, strictly nocturnal and nest underground in burrows. The petrel population is estimated at 2,000-4,000 birds, but the actual population is unknown. In the past, petrels have been found nesting on three Caribbean islands, but the only known nesting sites at present are on Hispaniola (the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

The Service found that the future viability of the black-capped petrel is inextricably linked to Haiti’s complex and challenging socioeconomic and environmental landscape. Up to 90 percent of all known black-capped petrel nest sites occur in a country where social, economic and environmental challenges exist.

Threats to the petrel include deforestation, human-caused fires, agricultural development and changes in climate patterns with increasing temperatures and precipitation events. In particular, the overwhelming dependence of the human population of Haiti on wood-based cooking fuels, such as charcoal and firewood, has caused substantial deforestation in Haiti and adjacent regions of the Dominican Republic. According to the SSA, future increases in the human population of Haiti will almost certainly result in increased deforestation.

Because the petrel’s breeding sites are all outside the United States, the ESA’s prohibitions against harming the birds have very limited ability to assist in addressing the threats there.

On its foraging grounds within the United States territorial waters, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) provides existing protections that prohibit intentional harm to the birds. The MBTA also provides effective restrictions on the U.S. import and export of petrels. Accordingly, the Service is proposing a special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA that will eliminate the need for additional import/export or intentional “take” permitting requirements as long as MBTA permitting conditions are met. Section 4(d) of the ESA enables the Service to tailor the prohibitions of the act to those that are most effective in the conservation of threatened species and enables us to remove potentially burdensome regulations that offer no additional conservation benefit.

The Service has also determined that designating critical habitat for the black-capped petrel under the ESA is not prudent because all the species’ breeding sites are outside the United States.

We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before December 10, 2018. Written comments must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in the Federal eRulemaking Portal or mailing address below by November 23, 2018, 45 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register.

Citizens may submit comments by one of the following methods:

  1. Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: In the Search box, enter Docket Number. FWS–R4–ES–2018–0043. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”
  2. By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2018–0043; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

The Service requests that you send comments only by the methods described above. We will post all comments on This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us.

Learn more from the frequently asked questions.


Phil Kloer,, 404-679-7299

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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