Black-capped Petrel is a small seabird once widespread in the West Indies, but now considered endangered. The bird is extremely nocturnal around it’s breeding grounds (probably to elude predators), usually on cliffs where they build their nests:
On pelagic boat trips off the coast of Cape Hatteras, Black-capped Petrels are regularly seen. But scientists are uncertain where in the West Indies they are now breeding, other than a small area on the mountainous border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The coast of Cuba or on another island? Confirm where they are breeding and conservationists might have a chance to improve their chances for survival.
With the partial help from my family foundation and others, a project is underway by the folks at the American Bird Conservancy and supported by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to try to find out where these birds breed.
The key strategy to capture a petrel or two (or with great luck and skill, three or more!) involves deploying this custom-designed device which will float on the ocean near the boat:
A mist net will span the distance between the vertical poles, and the birds will be hopefully attracted by throwing out chum. Once captured, small and very light satellite trackers will be attached to the bird and they will be quickly released. Imagine how cool it would be to track a Black-capped Petrel to their nesting grounds currently unknown to the birding and scientific community.
Storm petrels are considered more ‘skittish’ than other sea birds when it comes to approaching chum near a boat, so attempts to catch them and tag them is in the 'possible-probable’ spectrum that is, well, not ideal. But it’s well worth giving it a try!
Originally intended to take place last week but put on hold due to inclement weather, Project Petrel (my name for this!) is now scheduled for August.
Good luck Mike and George!