There is strong evidence to suggest that the endangered Black-capped Petrel seabird is nesting high on the volcanic peaks of Dominica in the Caribbean. Yet, the exact location or direct evidence has still not been discovered. Historically, the island had significant numbers of Black-capped Petrels, which is amazing since no more than 2,000 nesting pairs are thought to remain globally. Through the 19th century, the species was common enough that multiple peaks on Dominica were named for the petrel including Morne Diablotin and Morne aux Diables. While nesting birds have not been found since the 1860s, two different adult petrels were recently discovered in the Roseau Valley below Morne Micotrin, additional evidence that Black-capped Petrels may still nest in Dominica.
As part of EPIC’s extensive Black-capped Petrel conservation effort, a scientific team conducted radar surveys on Dominica during 2015 and 2020. Our goal was to discover if petrels persist on Dominica, and if possible, document flight corridors and establish baseline population data at newly discovered nesting sites throughout Dominica. During both expeditions, the EPIC scientific team documented petrels in flight at numerous locations on the island and documented several petrel-like targets using marine radar. The radar targets were also confirmed as petrels by researchers using night vision scopes. However, petrels were not able to be tracked back to a specific nest or nesting area and further surveys are necessary to confirm that Black-capped petrels are currently nesting on Dominica.
Expeditions to find Black-capped Petrels are important because they are one of the most endangered Caribbean seabird species and their numbers have been declining over the previous 150 years. Scientists estimate that only 1,000-2,000 pairs of petrels remain. While they historically nested on Dominica, they are currently known to nest only on the island of Hispaniola. The dire conservation status of the Black-capped Petrel has prompted its listing by various authorities as Endangered (IUCN 2011) and Critically Endangered by the Society for the Study and Conservation of Caribbean Birds (Schreiber and Lee 2000). In addition, the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan considers the species to be Highly Imperiled, making it an official Focal Species of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).