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The Black-capped Petrel – Status Review

Black-capped Petrel

The Black-capped Petrel is a nocturnal seabird and may warrant federal protection as a threatened or endangered species. A thorough status review of the species to determine whether the species warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (Act) is underway.

It is 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).

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 islands and are found at sea when not breeding.

Currently, there are only 13 known breeding colonies and an estimated 600 to 2,000 breeding pairs.  While historically the black-capped petrel had breeding colonies throughout the Caribbean region, current breeding populations are known only on the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and possibly Dominica and Martinique.  The non-breeding range of the black-capped petrel is along the coast between North Carolina and Florida.

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.




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