By Alexandria Simpson
Who knew that a small gray bit of fluff, barely identifiable as a bird by the tiny black beak, could be important? One in a Haitian cave on March 3, 2011 certainly was! This gray fluff ball was the first Black-capped Petrel chick ever photographed.
A team from the Dominican Republic conservation organization Grupo Jaragua was searching in Haitian mountains for Black-capped Petrel nests. They had been hunting by day and trying to locate calling birds by night for two days. One team member, not wanting to give up, began a search on an unexplored mountain. The other members suddenly heard him shout, “I think I have found the bird!” There, in a limestone cave, sat an adult Black-capped Petrel on a nest—exactly what they had been looking for! The bird didn’t blink an eye as each member took a peek at this outstanding discovery.
Few nests of this endangered bird have been found, and this was the first to be monitored by a camera. For four months, the motion-sensing camera photographed the parents feeding the chick. Other visitors included rats and a dog, which thankfully didn’t harm the chick. Over the course of the nesting season the researchers’ cameras took over 3,000 photos.
Photos from early July show the chick walking shakily to the cave’s edge to test its wings for the first time. Although the camera batteries ran out before then, researchers believe that the chick left the nest safely about mid-July. This turned out to be a happy and successful ending for the chick as well as the entire species, unlike two other nests found nearby which were both damaged, likely by flooding.
The data from this nest will be an immense help in conservation efforts for the species. Black-capped Petrels were once abundant, but introduced predators, habitat loss, and human hunters took their toll on the petrel. By about 1850 the species was thought be extinct. Sightings at sea and discovery of nest sites in 1963 gave scientists hope for the species. Black-capped Petrel is currently listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List and there are estimated to be between 2,000 and 5,000 individuals. Because they spend so much of their time at sea and visit nesting sites only at night, their habits are fairly unknown, so every new fact is important to conservation.
This gray fluff ball turned out to be very important!
About the author: Alexandria Simpson is an avid, sixteen-year-old birder from Santa Anna, Texas. While she wishes she could say she has been birding all of her life, instead she has spent the last four years making up for lost time. She wants to become an ornithologist and someday read scientific papers without falling asleep. Her photography, illustrations, and writings have won awards at local, state, and national levels. She currently serves as one of the student blog editors for The Eyrie.