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Jamaica Petrel Pterodroma caribbaea 


Jamaica Petrel

At a glance

Little information available, had been greatly depleted by time of original description (1866).

Was endemic to Jamaica; one of three endemic species of seabirds in the West Indies region.

Believed to be extinct, last mention of the species nesting in Jamaica was in 1891.

Index


Identification:

People in the region should be aware that the dark phase Herald [Trinidade] Petrel, Pterodroma arminjoniana, of South Trinidade Island has been documented in summer from the Outer Continental Shelf of the Southeastern United States and this species is also expected to occur in the West Indies region. Although the two species are not closely related, its size and dark phased plumage are superficially similar to that of the Jamaica Petrel. At sea sightings of reported Jamaica Petrels need to be evaluated with caution.

Adults

Dr. Bernard Zonfrillo of Glasgow University provided the following description which we substitute for our previous description:

"A completely dark brown Pterodroma Gadfly petrel with a silvery grey rump area. Bears little resemblence to the Black-capped Petrel that has a gleaming white ventral plumage and a white forehead, neck rign, and rump area. So-called "dark phase" Black-capped Petrels have a reduced or absent neck collar. Similarly dark brown Pterodroma petrels possible in the area might include the Trinidade Petrel Pt. arminjoniana and the Kermadec Petrel Pt. negecta."

To distinguish a Jamaica Petrel from the Trinidade Petrel, the dark morph Trinidade would have white on the leading edge of the underwing, white in the tips of the primary and secondary underwing coverts, and white in the bases of the underside of the primaries and secondaries. The Jamaica Petrel lacked this white underwing feathering. Similarly, a dark-morph Kermadec Petrel has white in the underside of the primaries, on the face adjacent to the bill, around the eyes, and on the leading edge of the underwing. The only light coloration on the Jamaica Petrel was the silvery rump.

Juveniles

No descriptions but assumed to be similar in plumage to adult.

Systematics

The taxonomic relationship of this petrel for decades remained unclear with many authors considering it to be a dark form of the Black-capped Petrel. Recent evaluations however have shown the Jamaica Petrel to be a distinct smaller species more closely related to the Cape Verde Petrel. This is further supported by the bird’s feather lice which show considerable differences with those of Black-capped Petrels. DNA analysis is warranted but there is little question that this is a distinct species.

Likely locations

Museum collections, the imaginations of cryptozoologists, and in the clouded minds of overly optimistic conservationists (just kidding - we maintain some hope that this species persists on some remote cliff of Jamaica). 

Alternative Names

Blue Mountain Duck, Dry Land Booby (Jamaica)

Distribution

Only documented as breeding in mountains of eastern Jamaica. While all records and most recent searches have been in the Blue Mountains, Jamaica’s remote John Crow Mountains were also likely to have supported nesting populations. Additionally, historical accounts of other dark petrels are available for other islands in the region (Dominica and Guadeloupe). The early literature is not specific, and these birds might well have been Audubon’s Shearwaters.

Biology

At sea

No information. Single report by Bond of a possible sighting west of the Bahamian Islands in 1936 (but see Identification). Based on other Pterodroma, highly pelagic and exhibiting long distant dispersal after breeding season.

At the nest

Historic documentation from Blue Mountains at elevations between 1050-1600 meters, possibly as low as 1,000 meters (1866-1892). Burrow nesting species; burrows 1.8-3 meters in length. Based on scant information assumed to be a winter breeder and, like other Pterodroma, a single egg species with a protracted breeding season. The introduction of the Indian mongoose (1872) is believed to be responsible for the species demise, but human predation and the introduction of dogs and pigs to Jamaica 200 years prior to the mongoose must have also taken their toll.

Nocturnal, breeding season started in September, with young hatching in Feb-March and fledging by July.

Current Population 

Believed to be extinct. No evidence of occurrence after 1891-1892 reports of mongooses found in the empty petrel burrows.  

Conservation Status

Searches for the species in recent times (1964 to present) have not uncovered extant populations. However, other species of petrels, long believed to be extinct, have been rediscovered in remote areas of oceanic islands. The recent rediscovery of the Jamaican iguana (Cyclura collei), another species long believed to be extinct, in a remote area of the island, is testament to the fact that the country continues to produce biological surprises.

Searches off the coast of Jamaica in 2009 using fish oil to attract petrels have indicated that Black-capped Petrels are abundant in the waters off Jamaica, but found no Jamaica Petrels. Some scientists have interpreted flight of petrels at dusk towards the Jamaican coastline to indicate that that species nest on Jamaica, but there is no evidence of nesting there and there has never been a report or specimen of Black-capped Petrel on Jamaica.

Conservation Needs

This bird is only known from a handful of anecdotal accounts and a few specimens distributed in a number of museums throughout the world. Life history information is lacking. Searches for extant nesting populations should continue. Because of the vocal nature of breeding Pterodroma, nocturnal surveys would best be focused on documentation by vocalizations. Additionally local inhabitants of the Blue and John Crow Mountains should be interviewed regarding the possible current or recent presence of this species. If found, and the sites of occurrence are documented, they need immediate protection and predator control. Funding for wardens and other protection should be relatively easy to obtain due to the high profile of this endemic species.

A recently formed Jamaican Petrel Research Group has undertaken surveys of the adjacent ocean, offshore islets and local mountains in hopes of finding extant populations.

Based on recovery of fossil and sub-fossil specimens of other species of petrels of conservation concern in the West Indies and elsewhere, systematic surveys of caves and similar shelters in the Blue Mountains would be a worth while effort that could shed light on former abundance and distribution of this bird in Jamaica.

Photos     

Jamaica's Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains of Jamaica

Selected References:

Bourne, W. R. P. 1965. The missing petrels. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 85: 6.

Carte, A. 1866. On an undescribed species of petrel from the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. 1866: 93-95.

Collar, N. J. et al.1992. Threatened Birds of the Americas – ICBP/IUCN Red Data book, 3rd ed. P. 2. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, U.K.

Douglas, L. 2000. Status of the Jamaican Petrel in the West Indies. Pags 19-24 in E. A. Schreiber and D. D. Lee (eds) Status and Conservation of West Indian Seabirds. Society of Caribbean Ornithology, Special Publication Number 1. 225 pp.

Imber, M. J. 1985. Origins, phylogeny and taxonomy of the gadfly petrels Pterodroma spp. Ibis 127: 197-229.

Imber, M. J. 1991. The Jamaican Petrel – Dead or Alive. Gosse Bird Club Broadsheet No. 57: 4-9.

Lee, D. S. 1979. Second record of the South Trinadad Petrel (Pterdroma arninjoniana) for North America. American Birds 33: 138-139.

Wingate, D. B. 1964. Does the “Blue Mountain Duck” of Jamaica survive? Gosse Bird Club Broadsheet No. 2 1-2.

Zonfrillo, B. 1993. Relationships of the Pterodroma Petrels from the Madeira Archipelago inferred from their feather lice. Bol. Mun. Funchal  Supp. No. 2, 325-331.

Acknowledgements

Leo Douglas supplied the photo of this petrel.
West Indian Breeding Seabird Atlas by Will Mackin and David Lee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on work at www.wicbirds.net. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.wicbirds.net.

Suggested Citation: Lee, D. S., W. A. Mackin, Zonfrillo, B. 2014. Jamaica Petrel. West Indian Breeding Seabird Atlas <http://www.wicbirds.net/jape.html>. Last Updated: _____. Date accessed: ______.

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