(BCPE) is a Globally Threatened species (Endangered on the IUCN Red
List 2011) with a population estimated at 1,000 breeding pairs,
although records at-sea suggest that over 5,000 individuals could
persist. The only breeding sites presently known are at Loma del
Sierra de Bahoruco IBA) in south-west Dominican Republic and at
La Visite and Macaya in Haiti (in the south-east and south-west of
the country, respectively). The species
has been extirpated from some sites, and it is anticipated that both
the breeding range and population will continue to decline as a
result of ongoing habitat loss and degradation, hunting and invasive
Concern over the status of this seabird was discussed during
International Workshop of the
Black-capped Petrel Working Group
held in Santo Domingo during November 2010. The need to undertake
surveys of potential nesting sites was one of a number of clear
actions identified during the planning workshop, and in order to
facilitate the search for nests, a map of potential breeding habitat
was produced by John Gerwin of the North Carolina Museum of Natural
Using the map to target efforts, Grupo
(BirdLife in the Dominican Republic) spearheaded an initiative to
search for Black-capped Petrel nests early in 2011. The searches
were a natural extension of the support provided to James Goetz (The
Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
and his efforts to promote national, binational and international
collaboration for the species over the last few years. The searches
are also identified as a critical next step in Grupo Jaragua’s
strategy for monitoring endangered species.
The presumed breeding season of the Black-capped Petrel was already
underway when the Grupo Jaragua team (of Ernst Rupp, Jairo Issa
Arache, Gerson Feliz, and José Luis Castillo) started the expedition
to search for nests on 3rd March. The team was joined by
two members (Djeff Alexis and Evanita Sanon) of OJAA – a youth
organization in Anse-à-Pitres, Haiti – who have been involved with
Grupo Jaragua-led conservation efforts for the Critically Endangered
Ricord’s Iguana Cyclura ricordi.
After reaching the small, rural Haitian community of Savann Zombi by
vehicle, the expedition continued on foot along the Massif de la
Selle in order to reach a site close to Morne Vincent – one of the
sites pinpointed by John Gerwin as a possible nesting location.
Morne Vincent is a steep hill with cliffs, forming part of the
mountain chain of the Massif de la Selle, and surrounded by land
heavily impacted by slash-and-burn agriculture. On arrival at the
site day-time searches for nests were initiated, followed by efforts
to locate calling birds at night. After two days of intensive day
and night efforts, no sign of the bird had been discovered.
Not wanting to admit defeat, Jairo Isaa Arache – a field assistant
trained by Grupo Jaragua in the use of camera traps and telemetry –
decided to search an adjacent (as yet un-surveyed) hill on his own.
From somewhere up on the hill, the team heard Jairo shout “I think I
have found the bird!” Inside a small cave an adult Black-capped
Petrel was sitting motionless on a nest of dry pine needles and fern
leaves. Nothing seemed to disturb the bird, and each team member
took turns to have a short look at this miraculous find. The first
ever active nest of a Black-capped petrel had been discovered!
A camera trap was set up a safe distance from the nest as a
minimal-impact tool to monitor activity at the nest including any
possible predators, 24 hours a day. More than 3,000 photos were
taken during the period March – July 2011. “The amount of energy the
parents invest in their off-spring is incredible. They only have one
nestling, but dedicate half a year to brood the egg and feed the
chick until it grows to full size and leaves the nest. Half a year
is a lot of time!” said Ernst Rupp from Grupo Jaragua. On 2nd
August, the team returned for the last time to the nest site and
found that the camera trap had stopped working on 4th
July. Although the final movements of the fledgling had not been
recorded, it seems the young bird safely left the nest for the ocean
as no signs of predator activity were found.
Two more nests were discovered in the vicinity of the first
one of which, on 13th March, contained a brooding adult.
Neither of these nests was successful – their eggs did not hatch.
One was found with the remnants of the nestling in the egg, and the
other nest had broken eggshell without any trace of a nestling.
Both nests were situated within a ravine where it is suspected that
flood waters may have damaged them.
The discoveries in Haiti, and the collaboration involved in
making them provide real hope for the Black-capped Petrel,
and a boost for the implementation of the recently-published
Conservation Action Plan for the Black-capped Petrel. The action
plan details three main objectives that will be the focus of work in
the near future: defining distribution and abundance; understanding
the breeding ecology; and working with local communities to conserve
the species. The Grupo Jaragua team is already preparing for the
2012 season, and their part in the implementation of the
conservation action plan.
important discovery is the result of a huge collaborative effort
on behalf of the Black-capped Petrel for which Grupo Jaragua and
James Goetz would like to sincerely thank the support of many
individuals and organizations including: Abdel Abellard, Jesus
Almonte, J. Hart, Anderson Jean, Miguel Landestoy, Enold Louis Jean,
T. Mejia, René Jeune, Evanita Sanon, Djeff Alexis, Markus Kleber,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology,
US Forest Service,
Societé Audubon Haiti, Sociedad Ornitológica de la Hispaniola,
Vermont Center for Ecostudies,
North Carolina Museum of Natural Science,
American Bird Conservancy,
Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds and
Environmental Protection in the Caribbean.