The "little devil," or Black-capped Petrel, is among the rarest and most secretive seabirds in the Western Hemisphere. Extreme habitat loss on their breeding grounds was thought to have driven the bird extinct until its rediscovery in 1963. This species remains in danger of extinction, with fewer than 1,000 pairs in existence.
These seabirds spend most of their lives in flight over open water, returning to land only to breed. One reason Black-capped Petrels remain little known is that their breeding sites are hidden in the rugged mountains of Hispaniola, the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Their nocturnal habits also make the birds difficult to study. On foraging trips that may last up to a week and cover more than 100 miles per day, Black-capped Petrels gather fish, invertebrates, and squid to feed to their young, finally returning to their nest sites under the cover of darkness.
As with any rare species, science is the key to conservation success. In May 2019, ABC brought together an international team of seabird experts to capture Black-capped Petrels at sea for the first time. The team, composed of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists, New Zealand experts, and U.S. conservationists, equipped the endangered birds with satellite transmitters. Data gathered via the transmitters may provide insight into new nesting islands. (See updates on each petrel's' travels, including a photo of each bird.)
This groundbreaking work is part of a larger effort to better understand and prevent the extinction of the species. It builds on activities from 2014, when researchers from our partners Grupo Jaragua and the USGS tagged three Black-capped Petrels with lightweight transmitters at a nesting site in the Dominican Republic. These tracking data were used to help identify leading threats to Black-capped Petrels when they are at sea.
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Several threats are already known: The Black-capped Petrel is victim to introduced predators, and habitat loss is ongoing, including loss from forest fires and encroachment. On land, artificial lights may cause collisions with trees, wires, and buildings. At sea, offshore energy development and oil spills may pose additional hazards.
Seabirds are the world's most threatened group of birds, with nearly half declining in population. Our Seabirds Program is working with partners on several fronts. For example, we're working with partner groups to protect the Black-capped Petrel's remaining breeding areas and to minimize threats. This work begins by better understanding the species' needs.
We also continue to urge the United States to sign onto the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses & Petrels (ACAP), which currently includes 13 signatories from France to Uruguay. ACAP works to conserve albatrosses and petrels by coordinating international activities that benefit these birds.
We welcome all and every effort to help us "bring back the birds." If you would like to make a donation to support our work on Black-capped Petrels, please click here. Or visit our Get Involved page to learn more about how you can help. Together, we can make a difference for this special bird.
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