The only way for South Carolinians to see a seabird called the black-capped petrel is to get in a boat and head dozens of miles offshore. However, wildlife experts warn that even those fishermen are seeing the birds less and less on the open seas.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced it is reviewing whether or not to classify the small seabird as endangered. The agency agreed to do the 90-day finding at the request of the conservation group WildEarth Guardians. The Fish and Wildlife Service will receive public comments until August 20 before deciding whether or not to list the bird.
“This finding does not mean that the Service has decided it is appropriate to list the black-capped petrel,” Edwin Muniz, Field Supervisor for the Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office, said in a statement, “The 90-day-finding is the first step in a process that triggers a more thorough review of all biological information available.”
The agency says there are currently only 13 known petrel colonies and an estimated 600 to 2,000 breeding pairs remaining. “We have been hearing for several years about this particular species being in lower numbers than they were in the past,” said FWS wildlife biologist Jorge Saliva. He said habitat loss due to deforestation and predation by non-native animals– such as cats, opossums, and mongooses– are decimating the remaining colonies.
“The problem is having all your eggs in one basket,” he told South Carolina Radio Network, “There are few colonies and all the birds are nesting there. So, if they get killed, you just wipe out a large portion of the population.”
The black-capped petrel has a grey-brown back and wings, with a white nape and rump. The seabird’s underparts are mainly white apart from a black cap and some dark underwing markings. It picks food items such as squid from the ocean surface. The seabird nests in colonies on Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and are found in the Atlantic off the Southeast U.S. coast when not breeding.
The bird is pelagic, meaning it spends most of its time on the open seas. The Fish and Wildlife Service also classifies it as a nocturnal, although Saliva said the bird is active during the day and only goes ashore at night to avoid predators.
The Service is starting the status review to determine whether or not listing the black-capped petrel under the Endangered Species Act is warranted. As part of its process, the agency is seeking information from state and federal natural resource agencies and all interested parties regarding the petrel and its habitat.
Once it receives all of the public comments, the Service will make one of three possible determinations:
(1) Listing is not warranted, in which case no further action will be taken.
(2) Listing as threatened or endangered is warranted. In this case, the Service will publish a proposal to list the bird as endangered, solicit independent scientific peer review of the proposal, seek input from the public, and consider the input before a final decision about listing the species is made.
(3) Listing is warranted but precluded by other, higher priority activities. This means the species is added to the federal list of candidate species, and the proposal to list is deferred while the Service works on listing proposals for other species that are at greater risk. A warranted, but precluded, finding requires annual reviews until such time as either a listing proposal is published, or a “not warranted” finding is made based on new information.