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A small, black and white bird flies over ocean waters.
Information icon Black-capped petrel off the coast of Cape Hatteras, NC. Photo © Brian Patteson, seabirding.com, used with permission.

Black-capped petrel

Pterodroma hasitata

The black-capped petrel is a seabird found in North America and the Caribbean, and is known by several common names: “black-capped petrel,” “capped petrel,” and “West Indian petrel” in North America and on English-speaking islands. In the Greater and Lesser Antilles, the bird is known as “diablotín” (little devil). In Cuba, the bird also is referred to as “bruja” (witch).

Download the peer-reviewed species status assessment.

Appearance

The black-capped petrel has a grey-brown back and wings, with a white nape and rump. The seabird’s underparts are mainly white apart from a black cap and some dark underwing markings. It picks food items such as squid from the ocean surface. The seabird nests in colonies on Caribbean islands and are found at sea when not breeding.

Habitat

The black-capped petrel is a seabird that breeds on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. As a pelagic species, it spends most of its life at sea. It travels long distances to forage as far north as open ocean waters off the coast of Virginia. It is a colonial nesting species that comes ashore only once each year to nest in crevices or burrows in steep, forested mountain cliffs. The black-capped petrel is nocturnal and arrives at its nesting site after sunset.

The main foraging areas appear to be directly east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. However, some birds are found with regularity off the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia. Concentrations occur during winter, when breeding birds forage along the Gulf Stream as they migrate to and from breeding colonies.

Diet

The black-capped-petrel is believed to feed on squid and fish.

Current range

Currently, there are only 13 known breeding colonies and an estimated 600 to 2,000 breeding pairs on the island of Hispaniola, which is home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The non-breeding range of the black-capped petrel is along the coast between North Carolina and Florida and the birds have also been found using waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

Historic range

In the past, petrels have been found nesting on four Caribbean islands including Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Hispaniola.

Conservation challenges

The black-capped petrel faces many potential threats to its continued existence, including human encroachment, deforestation, agricultural modification, offshore oil exploration and development, overuse from subsistence hunting, predation by introduced species, pollution, mercury bioaccumulation and inadequate regulatory mechanisms.

Predation by introduced species, such as Indian mongoose, Virginia opossum, feral cats, dogs, pigs, and rats also contributed to the decline and possible elimination of the species from multiple locations in the West Indies. Pollution, bioaccumulation of heavy metals, and oil spills potentially threaten the existence of the petrel as researchers have noted that the species has a mercury concentration seven to nine times higher than other similar seabirds.

Additionally, impacts specific to the black-capped petrels could include changes in habitat suitability, loss of nesting burrows washed out by rain or flooding, increased petrel strandings inland during storm events, and increased risk from animal-borne disease.

Partnerships, research and projects

Ongoing research in the Caribbean continues to better understand breeding activity and nesting areas of the black-capped petrel. Organizations such as Grupo Juaragua, Birds Caribbean and others are conducting surveys and providing public outreach to address conservation of the species on the nesting grounds. There are additional project ongoing to understand foraging behaviors and prey selection. An existing partnerships between USFWS, National Marine Fisheries Service, USGS and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management provides for conducting seabird surveys in the Gulf of Mexico to better understand the extent of the petrel’s foraging areas.

Subject matter experts

Federal Register notices

The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.

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