Cape petrel (Daption capense)

Also known as: Cape pigeon, pintado petrel
French: Damier du Cap
GenusDaption (1)
SizeLength: 39 cm (2)
Male weight: 478 g (2)
Female weight: 449 g (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Although both its common name and specific name refer the Cape of Good Hope, where it was first described, the Cape Petrel is actually found throughout the southern Ocean (2) (3). With its black head and strikingly speckled black and white upperparts, the Cape petrel is a highly distinctive species (2) (3) (4). Indeed, no other seabird has a similarly chequered pattern to its upperparts (2) (5). The underparts are mostly white, except for the chin and tail tip, which are both black, as are the legs, feet and bill (2) (3) (4). There are two recognised subspecies of the Cape petrel: the considerably more abundant nominate subspecies, Daption capense capense; and the smaller, darker-patterned, and much more restricted subspecies, D. c. australe (2) (3) (5).

The Cape petrel has an extensive circumpolar distribution ranging from the subtropics to the edge of the Antarctic continent (2) (4) (6). Breeding colonies of Daption capense capense are concentrated in the Scotia Sea and the sub-Antarctic, while D. c. australe is restricted to the sub-Antarctic islands south of New Zealand (3).

The breeding colonies are generally found on level rocky ground or rocky cliffs within one kilometre of the sea (2).

Over winter, the Cape Petrel moves into the more northerly parts of its range, where it generally stays far from shore in the open ocean (2) (4). It returns to the breeding colonies at the beginning of the Austral summer, from mid to late October. Breeding pairs are remarkably monogamous, with between 75 to 85 percent of adults mating with the same partner as the previous year (3). The nest comprises a shallow scrape or a small collection of stones, usually positioned under an overhanging rock for protection (3) (6). Each year, the female lays just a single egg, which is incubated in shifts by both the parent birds. Similarly, both the male and female share feeding and caring responsibilities once the chick has hatched. At the nest, the adults and the nestlings deter predators such as skuas (Catharacta spp.) by spitting stomach oil with incredible accuracy (3).

The Cape petrel is an opportunistic forager, with krill, fish, squid and carrion forming the bulk of its diet. Although it usually forages by seizing and scavenging from the surface, occasionally it will dive up to one metre below the surface in pursuit of prey (3). In addition, this petrel is known to commonly follow ships in order to pick up discarded scraps and offal (3) (5).

Owing to its widespread distribution, large global population, and remote breeding colonies, there are few major threats to the Cape petrel (3).

Although there are not known to be any significant conservations measures in place for the Cape petrel, this species is likely to benefit from conservation activities being implemented for the more threatened seabird species in the southern hemisphere (7).

For further information on the conservation of petrels, visit:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

Authenticated (23/04/10) by Mark Tasker, Head of Marine Advice, Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2008)
  2. Brooke, M. (2004) Albatrosses and petrels across the world. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. Riffenburgh, B. (2006) Encyclopedia of the Antarctic. Routledge, New York.
  4. McGonigal, D. (2008) Antarctica: Secrets of the Southern Continent. Firefly Books, New York.
  5. Harper, P.C. and Kinsky, F.C. (1978) Southern albatrosses and petrels. Victoria University Press, Wellington.
  6. Polar Conservation Organisation (June, 2009)
  7. Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) (June, 2009)