Black-capped Petrel Pterodroma hasitata

  • Order: Procellariiformes
  • Family: Procellariidae
  • Polytypic: 2 subspecies
  • Authors: Farnsworth, Andrew


Distribution of the Black-capped Petrel
eBird range map for Black-capped Petrela

Generated from eBird observations (Year-Round, 1900-present)

Distribution in the Americas

A critically rare and local breeder in the Caribbean, with populations known to nest in Haiti and Dominican Republic. Black-capped Petrel also recently was rediscovered breeding on Dominica, where breeding last had been confirmed in the late 19th century (Collar et al. 1992). Formerly also bred on Guadeloupe, though now apparently extirpated there (Collar et al. 1992), and may have nested on Martinique, although no strong recent evidence (Lee 2000).  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 several km2, with a similar area in La Visite, Massif de la Selle (the majority of colonies formerly found within a 10 km stretch spanning a 500 m elevational range on the north side of the ridge, though now reduced to smaller area of forest, more so since the 2010 earthquake; two more colonies are located further to the east, span 5 km, again within a 500 m elevation range, Simons et al. 2006). 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, but the at-sea range has contracted in the north and west. Occasionally birds are entrained in hurricanes and deposited far inland - for example, Hurricane Fran displaced what was probably many tens of Black-capped Petrels into the Great Lakes in the Northeastern US.  Generally, in temperate summer months of June-September, Black-capped Petrel frequents the western edge of the Gulf Stream.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology conducted a Rapid Biological Inventory at Parque Nacional La Bayamesa, Cuba, in February 2004, and this included a survey for Black-capped Petrels.  N. Viña led the team to a site along the coast near Uvero, a remote location directly below Pico Turquino and near a location of previous site records of the species (Farnsworth et al. 2005).  The team found petrels on two occasions: 25 birds on 9 February 2004 and up to 46 Black-capped Petrels on 24 February.  Birds were flying within 50 meters, at times, of the bluffs, forming several tight flocks on the water just offshore.  After dark, vocalizations from the birds indicated that at least some of the petrels flew ashore and up a stream valley and steep mountainside towards the Sierra Maestra peaks.  Forsell (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pers. comm.) commented that ‘Petrels don't go up into mountains or hang around shores unless they are breeding and I would consider that confirmed. Most petrels and shearwaters go ashore at dusk or in the dark and leave before first light. I would consider flocks of birds sitting on the nearshore waters at dusk a sure thing, but seeing or hearing them calling going ashore as good as finding a nest.’

Distribution outside the Americas

At least four records in European waters (see Howell 2002).


When breeding, steep, mountainous terrain with open park-like pine savannas, at least originally (see Simons et al. 2006).  Associated with elfin vegetation in some areas as well, with scattered plants and generally "sub-climax" community attributes (Simons et al. 2006).  Probably above treeline in places such as Pico Turquino in southeastern Cuba.  Nesting sites are frequently at cliff faces in open-canopy highland forest, but in the past the species may have used open sites maintained by fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanism (Simons et al. 2006).

This species is frequently seen in open ocean when not breeding, frequenting warmer waters of the Gulf Stream.  Individuals occur across a wide variety of ocean environments, though their distribution and occurrence seems to be driven primarily by the presence of the Gulf Stream rather than explicitly by water temperatures and depths.

Historical changes

In addition to direct exploitation by colonists in previous centuries and recent declines in breeding habitat due to deforestation, introduced predators (mongoose, feral cats dogs, and pigs, and opossums) may have played a role in the species' decline (summarized by Simons et al. 2006).

Black-capped Petrels presumably bred historically in the Sierra Maestra mountain range of southeastern Cuba (Nicasio Viña, personal communication).  This area shares its name with a nearby town, as well as an adjacent point of land also named La Bruja where the petrels are known to feed at night.  Locals in the area reported hearing strange nocturnal sounds in 1976 which N. Viña assured residents were birds, not demons or witches (Garrido 1985).  Cuban ornithologists affiliated with the Havana National Museum of Natural History collected six specimens of Black-capped Petrels as the petrels were coming ashore at dusk. Although this potential breeding colony was never found, as the cliffs within the Sierra Maestra range are largely inaccessible, there is additional recent evidence to suggest that a stronger survey effort in this area is warranted.

Nested previously on Guadeloupe, though now apparently extirpated; may have nested on Martinique, although no strong recent evidence.

Fossil history

Sub-fossil bone remains of Pterodroma, confirmed or suspected to represent hasitata, are known from several sites in Haiti, from Martinique, St. Croix (Virgin Islands), and Crooked Island (Bahamas). None of this material has been dated, although the age of samples from Haiti in the Florida State Museum are believed to be from the late Pleistocene to recent (Simons et al. 2006).

Recommended Citation

Farnsworth, Andrew. 2010. Black-capped Petrel (Pterodroma hasitata), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.