Saving the devil: a story about seabird recovery in the Caribbean

by Liz Corry

Last Thursday, Dr Kirsty Swinnerton gave a talk at Jersey Zoo about seabird recovery work in the Caribbean, Alaska and the UK, to name a few. Kirsty demonstrated how the problems (pests) and recovery actions (pest management, social attraction, nest-boxes) are the same in the different regions for different seabirds. Also, how we can exchange ideas and lessons learned across species, organisations and regions.

Dr Kirsty Swinnerton presenting at Jersey Zoo to a packed out auditorium. Photo by Liz Corry.

The talk was very well attended and received a lot of positive feedback. We hope to publish a summary on the website in the next few weeks. Kirsty ran out of time to show the film trailer for one of the projects she mentioned, Saving the devil.

For those of you unable to attend the talk, put the crucifixes down and let me explain. The ‘little devil’, or Diablotin, to residents of Haiti, is a black-capped petrel. A secretive, unassuming seabird that just so happens to fly at night making sinister ghostly calls, hence the name.

A black-capped petrel with Adam C. Brown a scientist studying the species. Photo credit BirdsCaribbean.

The black-capped petrel was thought to be extinct, thanks to human encroachment and introduced predators, namely mongoose. It was rediscovered in the 1960s in a remote part of Haiti. The species is considered an indicator of how healthy Haiti’s habitat is. With only three breeding sites across the entire country the answer is clearly not a positive one.

Thanks to considerable research and conservation management, by scientists and local NGOs, the outlook is starting to look better.  Research techniques which could be applied here in Jersey, include the use of marine radar technology and night vision binoculars. The petrel comes to shore only for a few months of the year to breed; flying into forested mountains at night to underground burrows. This technology allows biologists to locate, identify and count flying petrels coming inland, in the dark. It has led to the petrels rediscovery a few years ago in Dominica, West Indies.

You can learn more about the petrel and the project by clicking here. The three minute trailer for the film ‘Saving the devil’ is below. The full length film will no doubt be saddening and thought provoking, but ultimately an example of conservation optimism and how we can make a difference.

Trailer for “SAVE THE DEVIL”, a documentary about the story of two families fighting for their life in Haiti. from Guido Ronge on Vimeo.

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  1. Swifts are ‘devil birds’ too. Why are people so keen to equate birds with evil? I guess people like that think anything mysterious must be evil – how boring and sad!

    • Especially when it’s crows and magpies! Luckily I don’t equate devil birds (particularly swifts) with evil, just extraordinary skills in flying and shouting. If the Devil has the best music, maybe the best birds too.