Bermuda Petrel Pterodroma cahow

The Bermuda Petrel or Cahow, as it is known in Bermuda, is a rare but regular visitor to waters off Cape Hatteras. 

Like other gadfly petrels which occur here, the Bermuda Petrel has mostly been found in deep water and has yet to be seen inshore of the shelf break, which is only 25 miles from Hatteras Inlet.  The majority of records to date are from late May and early June, but this is partly a result of intensive survey effort during that time period.  We have also recorded it in July, August and September, and it seems very plausible that it might visit the Cape Hatteras area throughout the breeding season, which begins in November and winds up in late May.  Foraging trips of 600 miles or more in each direction would not be surprising for such a fast flying bird.

Compared to the much more common Black-capped Petrel, the Cahow has a darker head and neck area, usually appearing more "hooded" than "capped."  The Cahow also has a broader dark leading edge to the underwing than most Black-caps, but this feature alone should not be relied on because of a few Black-caps have a nearly identical pattern.

Our experience with Black-capped Petrels has shown us that they are somewhat variable in appearance, and it would make sense that Bermuda Petrels need not all look exactly the same either.  Most of the variation we have seen in Cahows has been in the area of the uppertail coverts, and this can sometimes be attributed to molt and wear.  Occasionally we have seen some Cahows with a bit less of a hooded aspect than others, but this bird is the extreme variant.  It has a capped appearance like a Black-capped Petrel, but the tiny bill, small size and dark-tipped uppertail coverts are all typical of Bermuda Petrel.

But if you see a typical Cahow in nice plumage, there should be no problem with the identification.  This bird was photographed east of Cape Hatteras on one of our pelagic trips: May 27, 2005.  It flew in close to investigate our chum slick.

This bird stayed close for a while and I also got a nice shot of it against the sea.


The light is not always perfect for photos and sometimes we are lucky to get just one good photo.  Steve Howell was ready with his camera and nailed this Cahow on May 28, 2008.  Look at how dark the uppertail coverts are on this bird!  The first Cahow we saw off here of the Outer Banks (July 31, 1993- no photos) looked more like this one.  We also saw a Cahow off Hatteras on May 21, 2008.

Bermuda Petrel- SE of Hatteras Inlet June 27, 2009 photos by Dan Haas- scroll down

Bermuda Petrel- 31 miles SE of Hatteras Inlet May 23, 2009 photo by Chris Sloan