Black-capped Petrel (Pterodroma hasitata)

Black-capped Petrel

[order] PROCELLARIIFORMES | [family] Procellariidae | [latin] Pterodroma hasitata | [authority] Kuhl, 1820 | [UK] Black-capped Petrel | [FR] Petrel diablotin | [DE] Teufels-Sturmvogel | [ES] Petrel Antillano | [NL] Zwartkapstormvogel


Monotypic species


Genus Pterodroma, Pseudobulweria and Aphrodroma are also knwon as the Gadfly Petrels. They vary in size from rather small birds such as the Cookilaria-species, measuring about 26 cm, to the much larger and robust representatives of this group like the White-headed Petrel with an overall length of about 43 cm. Their plumages also vary a great deal from species to species; from completely black to light grey mantles and pure white bellies, and with different color phases within species. One feature shared by all of them is the black bill of which the shape also shows much variation. Some species are extremely rare and restricted to a very limited area, other are abundant and wander widely or have unknown pelagic ranges.
The group of the Gadfly Petrels counts over 35 species, mainly from the Southern Hemisphere. There are three genera: Pterodroma with about 30 species, Pseudobulweria counting four and Aphrodroma with only one. Many authors have tried to classify the large number of species of this group and to determine their relationships. This has resulted in a division in several subgenera and the grouping of several species which are considered to have a more or less close relationship. The taxonomic discussion has not come to an end yet: new species have been added or split recently and probably will be in the near future.

Physical charateristics

Medium-sized, long-winged gadfly petrel. Brownish-black cap extending to eye, nape and towards upper breast where forms partial collar. White hindneck. Brownish-grey mantle and upperwing. White rump and uppertail-coverts. Dark brown tail. Entirely white underparts. White underwing with narrow black trailing edge, black tip, broad black edge between primaries and carpal joint. Band extends weakly towards centre of wing from joint. Black bill. Pink legs, and feet pink proximally, black distally. Similar spp. Bermuda Petrel P. cahow is smaller and usually lacks white hindneck and rump, but separation may sometimes be impossible. Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis is larger, darker and less contrasting above, lacks black edge to underwing and has slower wingbeats and less erratic flight.

wingspan min.: 89 cm wingspan max.: 102 cm
size min.: 40 cm size max.: 42 cm
incubation min.: 0 days incubation max.: 0 days
fledging min.: 0 days fledging max.: 0 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 1  


Atlantic Ocean : West, Caribbean. Pterodroma hasitata now breeds in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.


Nests are typically found along forested mountain slopes and cliffs at elevations from 1,500 metres up to 2,300 metres. During the non-breeding season, from approximately May to November, the black-capped petrel lives and forages permanently at sea with the largest numbers concentrated around areas of nutrient rich upwelling


It nests (starting in December) colonially in cliff burrows, often within montane forest at 1,500-2,000 m, but up to 2,300 m in the Dominican Republic. Nesting birds commute large distances from breeding to foraging sites.
In early December, a cacophony of haunting screams and cries accompanies the adults as they return to the breeding colonies to begin nesting. Nests are made on a bed of plant debris within earth burrows or natural rock crevices. What happens next is poorly studied because of the relative inaccessibility of most breeding colonies. However, in common with other petrels, a single egg will undergo a lengthy incubation period before hatching, with the eventual fledging of young between late May and early June. During this time the nesting adult birds travel long distances back and forth from the colonies to the foraging sites

Feeding habits

It is primarily nocturnal and crepuscular, feeding on fish, invertebrate swarms, fauna associated with Sargassum seaweed reefs, and squid. It is attracted to localised upwellings, where the mixing of surface and deep oceanic waters produces nutrient-rich areas.
The black-capped petrel forages predominantly in multispecies flocks throughout the night but with peak activity at dawn and dusk. While some time is spent foraging on the ocean surface, the preferred technique is to snatch items with their bills whilst in flight. Fish, squid and invertebrates all form part of the petrel’s diet, with fauna associated with Sargassum seaweed reefs being particularly popular. In addition, these birds are not averse to occasionally scavenge behind fishing vessels


This species is classified as Endangered because it has a very small, fragmented and declining breeding range and population. It has already been extirpated from some sites, and declines are likely to continue as a result of habitat loss and degradation, hunting and invasive predators.
Pterodroma hasitata now 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, but records at-sea suggest that the population is over 5,000 individuals. The area of suitable habitat in the Pic Macaya region of Massif de la Hotte is estimated to be 5 km2, with a similar area in La Visite, Massif de la Selle (the majority of colonies are found within a 10 km stretch spanning a 500 m elevational range on the north side of the ridge; two more colonies are located further to the east, span 5 km, again within a 500 m elevation range). Small numbers have been recently recorded on Dominica and in adjacent offshore waters, suggesting that it may still nest. It now seems likely that small numbers breed in Cuba based on observation in the Sierra Maestra region (a congregation of 40+ individuals in the vicinity of shoreline, vocalisations heard overhead by landbased observers, and evidence of birds moving inland). It is believed extinct on Guadeloupe (to France) (where 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 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.
Black-capped Petrel status Endangered


Disperses over tropical and subtropical waters of Caribbean and Atlantic, ranging from NE Brazil to NE USA, where regular off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Two records from Britain , in 1850 and 1984.

Distribution map

Black-capped Petrel distribution range map


Author(s): David S. Lee & Nicasio Vina
Abstract: The Black-capped Petrel, Pterodroma hasitata, is t..[more]..

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Title A Black-capped Petrel Specimen from Florida
Author(s): Glen E. Woolfenden
Abstract: The Black-capped Petrel (Pterodroma hasitata) is a..[more]..
Source: Florida Field Naturalist Vol. 2 Spring 1974

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Abstract: The status of the Black-capped Petrel (Pterodroma ..[more]..
Source: The Auk, 81: 147-159. April, 1964

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Author(s): Adam C. Brown and Natalia S. Collier
Abstract: Evidence shows the Black-capped Petrel was abundan..[more]..
Source: Environmental Protection In the Caribbean, No. 1, 2001

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