Latin name: Daption capense
Longevity: Can live for 15 to 20 years.
Population: The Cape Petrel has a large global population estimated to be 2,000,000 individuals
Cites classified: Least Concern (IUCN, 2008)
Where found: The Cape Petrel have a circumpolar distribution that ranges from the subtropics to the edge of the Antarctic continent. Cape Petrels breed on numerous islands surrounding the coasts of Antarctica and on sub-Antarctic islands. A few pairs nest as far north as New Zealand’s Auckland Islands, the Chatham Islands and Campbell Island; the majority of the species nest further south. The species’ stronghold is on the Antarctic Peninsula and the islands of the Scotia Sea. They also breed on other sites on the Antarctic mainland, as well as South Georgia, the Balleny Islands, and Kerguelen Island.
Wingspan: 80-91 cm
Length: 35-42 cm
Weight: 440 g
Mating/Breeding: Cape Petrels are monogamous and form long-term pair-bonds. They are colonial, nesting on rocky cliffs or on level rocky ground no further than a kilometre from the sea. The nests are made with small rocks and gravel and are usually placed under an overhanging rock for protection. A single egg is laid in mid to late November and incubated for around 45 days. Both parents take shifts of several days incubating the egg, with the male shifts on average lasting a day longer. Once hatched, the chick is brooded for 10 days until it is able to thermoregulate, after which both parents hunt at sea to feed it. Cape Petrel chicks fledge after 45 days in March.
Hibernation: During the summer, Cape Petrels feed close to Antarctica’s shelf; during the winter they range much further, reaching Angola, Australia and even the Galapagos Islands.
Hunting Habits: They take their food by surface seizing, plunging under the water and filtering the water. They also regularly follow fishing vessels to feed on anything edible thrown overboard and feed on carcasses at sea.
Feed on: Cape petrel feed mainly on krill, squid and small fish. They also scavenge on carcasses.
Threats: Cape Petrels on Kerguelen, Auckland and Cochons are affected by cat and rat predation.
Colour/Looks: They are distinctively patterned black-and-white on their upperparts, while their underparts are mostly white. The chin and throat are blackish and the tail has a blackish tip. The underwing is white with black margins, and the bill, legs and feet are all black.
- Also known as Pintado Petrel and Cape Pigeon
- The species name and common names refers to the Cape of Good Hope, the locality where the type specimen was collected.
- Their habit of pecking at the water to seize prey is the origin of one of their common names, the Cape Pigeon.
- It is also sometimes known as the Pintado Petrel. Pintado is Spanish for “painted”, in reference to the species’ clearly contrasted coloration. It also happens to be an (unintended) anagram of the genus name Daption, which is Ancient Greek for “little devourer”, a reference to the species’ voracious feeding habits.
- Cape Petrels are extremely aggressive at sea both towards their own species and others, and will even spit oil at competitors.
- BirdLife International (2008) Species factsheet: Daption capense
- Hadoram Shirihai, A complete guide to Antarctic wildlife (2002)
- David McGonigal & Lynn Woodworth, Antarctica and the Arctic. The complete encyclopedia (2001)