Endangered status considered for Black-capped Petrel

26 06 2012

Gliding toward endangered status?

In response to a petition filed by WildEarth Guardians in September of last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has begun a 12 month process examining the conservation status of the Black-capped Petrel. The decision, known as a 90-day finding, triggers a thorough review of existing data on the Caribbean-nesting birds, and the public is encouraged to submit documentation about the bird, its habitat, and potential threats to its survival by August 20.

In a previous post, I gave a bit of background on the life history of this secretive seabird, but there remains much that is unknown about them. Regarding threats to the species, the USFWS  writes:

“The black-capped petrel faces many potential threats to its continued existence, including human encroachment, deforestation, agricultural modification, offshore oil exploration and development, overuse from subsistence hunting, predation by introduced species, pollution, mercury bioaccumulation and inadequate regulatory mechanisms. [...]  Pollution, bioaccumulation of heavy metals, and oil spills potentially threaten the existence of the petrel as researchers have noted that the species has a mercury concentration seven to nine times higher than other similar seabirds.

Additionally, impacts specific to the black-capped petrels could include changes in habitat suitability, loss of nesting burrows washed out by rain or flooding, increased petrel strandings inland during storm events, and increased risk from animal-borne disease (emphasis mine).”

These last are most certainly the domain of the Seanetter, and of our wildlife disease investigating cousins over at the Northeast Wildlife Disease Cooperative. It isn’t surprising that Seanetters have never found a beached Black-capped Petrel since they are, obviously, rare enough to be considered for endangered species status. But we do pride ourselves on being a clearinghouse for all dead seabird news, and we will contribute any information we gather on the species during this 90 day period. All members of the public can submit comments via the Federal Goverment’s ePortal, but be aware that at this point in the process, the government is looking for scientific reports, journal articles, unpublished data, photo documentation and the like. Evidence, in other words, rather than personal reflection or simple pleas for the species. These will be noted if submitted, but will not sway the decision making at this point.

We will, of course, be following this story for you, Seanetters, and welcome any input or questions you may have along the way. It should be a good civics lesson on how the Endangered Species listing process works.

The Black-capped Petrel: hope for an imperiled species

10 04 2012

Black-capped Petrel in flight

Having lived my whole life in New England, SEANET has offered numerous eye-opening opportunities for me to learn about species not known in my home region. One of these is the endangered Black-capped Petrel. This seabird breeds on the island of Hispaniola on both the Dominican Republic and Haiti sides. It now appears likely that small numbers of the birds may nest on Cuba as well. These seabirds are nocturnal and give eerie calls when on the nesting colony; these behaviors are likely responsible for the bird’s Spanish nickname “Diablotín,” or “little devil.” Even while raising young, the birds make long foraging journeys out to sea, and their full range extends from Brazil up to the northeastern United States.

The bird being rare overall, and being pelagic the vast majority of the time, the chances of a Seanetter finding the carcass of a Black-capped Petrel are slim, but not nonexistent. They are regular visitors to the waters off the Carolinas, and with our recent expansion efforts in that area, it seems timely to share information on this species with you Seanetters. You can follow the efforts of the Black-capped Petrel working group at their website, and also read the conservation action plan they published earlier this year. The threats to this bird will sound familiar to most, if not all of our seabird loving readership: a combination of habitat loss and degradation, and nest predation by introduced predators (cats, rats, etc.). The potential impacts of offshore oil and natural gas development on this struggling species have brought close scrutiny to proposed projects off the coast of South Carolina. Nocturnal birds of all sorts are at risk of colliding with lighted structures like cell phone towers, oil platforms and wind turbines, so the night-flying Black-capped Petrel could suffer more than many other seabirds from the contruction of these tall obstacles.

Both the nocturnal habits and secretive nature of this species has made it difficult to determine the extent of their breeding range, and their use of underground burrow nests make finding them difficult in the high mountain forests where they breed. Thus, a major focus of the conservation plan is simply to get a better sense of where the birds nest, and how many breeding pairs remain. Night-vision cameras are in use at known nests to monitor for visits by feral cats and other predators. By clearly delineating the habitats the birds use, and the nature of the threats they face, scientists can better choose the most beneficial tactics from among many potential conservation actions.

Home range of the Black-capped Petrel in blue, nesting range in yellow.


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