Black-capped Petrel

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Image:Black-capped Petrel.JPG

Common Name: Black-capped Petrel
Scientific Name: Pterodroma hasitata

Size: 15.7 inches (40 cm); 96.5 cm wingspan

Habitat: North America; found in the Caribbean, it lives at sea (except for breeding). It breeds in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. There are an estimated 1,000 breeding pairs mostly in the Massifs de la Selle and de la Hotte, southern Haiti. Small numbers have recently been recorded on Dominica and in adjacent offshore waters, suggesting that it may still nest there. It now seems likely that small numbers breed in Cuba based on observation in the Sierra Maestra region (a congregation of 40+ individuals sighted in the vicinity of shoreline, vocalizations heard overhead by land-based observers and evidence of birds moving inland). It is believed extinct on Guadeloupe (to France) (where it was common in the 19th century). Black-capped petrel may have bred on Martinique (to France). Even during the breeding season it is highly pelagic, with sightings of breeding condition birds recorded off the North Carolina coast, USA. Birds disperse over the Caribbean and Atlantic from the north-east USA to north-east Brazil, with four records in European waters, but the at-sea range has contracted in the north and west.

Status: Endangered. Global Population: 5,000 mature individuals and decreasing. Habitat destruction and hunting for food have caused this species’ decline, and remain key threats in Haiti. Birds are also predated by introduced mammals. Urbanization and concomitant increases in artificial lights may dazzle or disorientate birds into colliding with trees, wires and buildings. A telecommunications mast with stay wires erected in 1995 on Loma de Toro in Sierra de Bahoruco (the only known nesting locality in the Dominican Republic) poses a collision hazard. The proposed development of gas/oil fields off the coast of South Carolina, USA, could devastate this important feeding area. This bird has failed to make the US Federal Endangered Species list due to pressure from the energy industry and conservative elements within the US Government to keep it off the list.

Diet: Fish, invertebrate swarms, fauna associated with Sargassum seaweed reefs, and squid. Foraging seems concentrated at dawn, dusk, and night. Most food is captured in flight by seizing items with the bill. This petrel has also been observed touching the ocean surface with its feet (pattering). More rarely, it sits on the water with wings held high and sometimes dips its head below the surface. Nesting birds commute large distances from breeding to foraging sites.

Breeding: Medium-sized, long-winged gadfly petrel. Brownish-black cap extending to eye, nape and towards upper breast where it forms a partial collar. White hindneck. Brownish-grey mantle and upper wing. White rump and upper tail coverts. Dark brown tail. Entirely white under parts. White underwing with narrow black trailing edge, black tip, broad black edge between primaries and carpal joint. Band extends weakly towards center of wing from joint. Black bill. Pink legs, and feet pink proximally, black distally.

In early November, Black-capped Petrels assemble off the shores of their nesting islands. The petrels approach their colony at night with bizarre calls, described as cries or screams. They excavate burrows in the soil or use natural fissures in rock outcroppings as nesting sites. In a burrow about 3 feet long, one male was observed sitting on an empty nest, constructed of sticks and pine needles. This burrow appeared to have been used in previous years. Young Black-capped Petrels probably fledge between late May and early June.

Cool Facts: Black-capped Petrels are also known as Diablotín, or "little devil” because of its night-time habits and odd-sounding mating calls, which reminded villagers of the sounds of evil spirits. The extinct Jamaica Petrel (P. caribbaea) was a related dark form, often considered a subspecies of this bird.

One possible reason why the Black-capped Petrel is nocturnal is so that it can avoid predation by gulls, hawks or crows at the breeding sites.

Petrels don’t walk well—they tend to shuffle.

A group of petrels are collectively known as a "gallon" and a "tank" of petrels.


Found in Songbird ReMix Seabirds Volume 2

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