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Cape Petrel - BirdForum Opus

(Sub)species capense. Photo © by Jean Paul Perret
Pucusana, Lima, Peru, July 2010

Alternative Names: Cape Pigeon; Pied Petrel; Pintado Petrel

Includes: Antarctic Cape Petrel, Snares Cape Petrel

Daption capense


(Sub)species australe. Photo © by Ornitho26
Near Kaikoura (New Zealand), November 2005

Length 38-40cm (15-15¾ in), Wingspan 81-91cm.
Unmistakable boldly-patterned petrel familiar in the Southern Hemisphere due to ship-following habit.
Head and upper back black, lower back, rump and base of tail white with bold black chevrons, tail-tip black. Upperwing black with large irregular white patch on base of inner primaries and another on inner greater and median coverts.
Underwing white with broad and irregular black margins and a few scattered black spots.
Head black, underparts white with small black spots on undertail coverts.
Iris brown, bill and legs black.

Juvenile and adult are alike.
Unlikely to be confused with any other petrel.


(Sub)species australe. Photo © by Doc Duck
Kaikoura, New Zealand, September 2018

Circumpolar in Southern Oceans. Breeds on the Antarctic Peninsula and elsewhere in Antarctica, on South Georgia, the South Shetland, South Orkney and South Sandwich Islands, and on Bouvet, Crozet, Kerguelen, Heard, Macquarie, Belleny and Peter First Islands, the Snares, Antipodes, Bounty and Campbell Islands.

Disperses widely across Southern Oceans mainly south of 250S but reaches Equator off western South America and regular off the Galapagos Islands.

The most common petrel in southern African seas during the southern winter, common offshore in southern Australian waters April-November and present in New Zealand waters year-round north to Cook Strait.

Has been reported from California and Maine, and in Europe including one off Sicily in 1964 but none are considered to involve genuine vagrants.


Reference [3] suggests plumage differences mean the species might be better treated as two: "Antarctic Cape Petrel", D. capense (ssp. capense) and "Snares Cape Petrel", D. australe (australe).


Clements recognises the following subspecies [1]:

  • D. c. capense: "Antarctic Cape Petrel". Breeds circumpolar subantarctic islands; ranges southern oceans. [mantle largely black; inner wing with a larger black panel leaving a smaller white window]
  • D. c. australe: "Snares Cape Petrel". Breeds New Zealand subantarctic islands; ranges southern oceans. [mantle white with black spots; black and white panels on inner wing roughly the same size]

The taxa are separable at sea when in fresh plumage.


Breeds colonially on high inaccessible ledges on islands and Antarctic coasts during August to March, otherwise at sea. Highly gregarious at all times and one of the most frequent follower of ships. Quarrelsome and noisy at fishing vessels and whale carcasses.



Similar to Fulmarus with stiff-winged glides interspersed with rigid wingbeats, high and towering in strong winds. Feeds from surface in bouyant flight and treads water like storm-petrels.


Breeds October-April, varies according to latitude. Nest is a slight scrape on rock ledge or crevice. Single white egg (63 x 43mm), incubated by both sexes for 45-50 days. Chick fledges in about 42 days.


Planktonic crustaceans, cephalopods and small fish. Also scavenges at carcasses and at fishing or whaling vessels.


Voice: Whirring cooo at nest, harsh cackling calls at sea.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. BF Member observations
  3. Eaton, JA, B van Balen, NW Brickle, FE Rheindt 2021. Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago (Greater Sundas and Wallacea), Second Edition. Lynx Editions. ISBN978-84-16728-44-2

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