Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Black-capped Petrel - Pterodroma hasitata
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General Comments The Black-capped Petrel is, by far, the most often seen of the gadfly petrels (genus Pterodroma) in the Gulf Stream off North Carolina and the United States. In fact, probably over 90% of all US records are from North Carolina waters. It is seldom missed on warm weather pelagic trips off Oregon or Hatteras inlets, as long as trips reach the Gulf Stream. Yet, despite it often being fairly common to common in our offshore waters, this is a very rare species globally, and it is listed as Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Apparently only a few thousand pairs remain, nearly all nesting on steep cliffs on the island of Hispaniola in the West Indies, where the birds are often taken as food by locals. Birders come from afar to see this and other Gulf Stream pelagic birds, as trips off North Carolina more easily reach the Gulf Stream and can spend up to 6 hours in these warm waters on a given trip. Unlike nearly all other pelagic species, it is actually present in the Gulf Stream all year, though so few trips are taken in winter, and the warm water yields so much heat to the colder air, that dense fog often makes viewing difficult; thus, its abundance at that season is poorly known.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status FSC
State Rank S1N
Global Rank G1
Coastal Plain Offshore visitor (at all seasons). Generally fairly common to often common in the Gulf Stream, at least off Hatteras and Oregon Inlet, from May to Oct; and perhaps uncommon farther southward during this period. Apparently uncommon from Nov to Mar, though few trips visit the Gulf Stream in winter because of dense fog and the general scarcity of birds there at that season; a number of records of single-digit counts in winter. Seldom seen from shore, even during or after storms. Records from shore: 1, Roanoke Sound, 31 Aug 1999 (after Hurricane Dennis); and 1, sick or injured on the beach near Avon (Dare), 4 Jun 2016. One inland record: 1, Lake Waccamaw, 13-14 Sep 1984 (after Hurricane Diana) (Am. Birds 39:40). Peak counts: 538, off Oregon Inlet, 24 Aug 1997; 372, off Hatteras Inlet, 24 Jul 1999; 363, off Hatteras Inlet, 28 Jul 1996. Highest counts are in Jul and Aug.
Piedmont Accidental: 1, Jordan Lake, 6-7 Sep 1996 (during and after Hurricane Fran) (Nat. Audubon Soc. Field Notes 51:40). This report has not been reviewed by the NC BRC.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips This is an easy bird if you take a pelagic trip that goes into the deeper waters of the Gulf Stream. Most of the organized pelagic trips from Oregon and Hatteras inlets routinely spend several hours beyond the 100 fathom (600 feet) line, and the Black-capped Petrel is seldom missed on such trips. Trips that go only to the inner (western) edge of the Gulf Stream, often only 20 to 30 fathoms in depth, may miss the species. Likewise, taking a headboat on a fishing trip usually misses the species, as these boats normally bottom-fish over the shallower water of the Continental Shelf.
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Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-15], LeGrand[2018-06-11], LeGrand[2016-12-22]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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