Birding in Taiwan


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Dr.Rob Butler


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Kijja Jearwattanakanok





Chinese Crested Tern Thalasseus bernsteini seen in Matsu

by Rob Butler


Mandarin Version


The Chinese crested tern is one of the rarest birds in the world that until recently, was thought to be extinct. But thanks to Taiwan’s Executive Yuan’s Council of Agriculture and Lienchiang County Government who commissioned the Taiwan Wild Bird Federation to make a film in the Matsu Tern Conservation Area, film-maker Liang Chiei-de and Chang Shou-Hua re-discovered the tern in 2000. Their discovery was confirmed by Liu Hsiao-ru, a research fellow at Academia Sinica's Insitute of Zoology who pointed out how few sightings there had been for over a century. Since the first discovery in 2000, a very small number of Chinese crested terns have been seen each year in the Matsu Island archipelago about 180 kilometers northwest of Taiwan.


On 13 August 2005, I joined an expedition funded by the Taiwanese Government Information Office to aid in the search for the tern in the Matsu region. Accompanying me on board was the Chair of the International Taiwan Birding Association Simon Liao, and co-discoverer of the tern Chang Shou-Hua, Legislator Yang Chang-Tse, Senior Information Officer Jason Yuan, and Vice-chair of the International Taiwan Birding Association Lin Maw Nan. Our expectations were not high after two typhoons had passed Taiwan just prior to our arrival and August was at the tail end of the season for terns in the Matsu region.


We inspected some outer rocks battered by surf where many Greater crested terns and a few Bridled terns were present. But it was near impossible to use binoculars while being tossed about in the turbulent waters. We decided to move to sheltered waters where a few terns had been seen flying about a small island. As we approached the shore, Greater crested terns began to fly past the boat giving us excellent views of their large yellow bills and dark grey mantles. On the island, we noticed a flock of about 30 terns gathered on a large boulder. As if by providence, Chang Shou-Hua was the first to spot a Chinese crested tern among a group of Greater crested terns. We moved closer for a better look. The pale mantle of the Chinese crested tern was the most evident feature from a distance and as we got closer, the yellow-orange bill with a black tip came into view. I took several photos of the Chinese crested tern amidst the Greater crested terns. There was infectious jubilation among all on board that carried on into the evening over a celebratory banquet feast encouraged on with copious amounts of Matsu’s famous wine.


When I returned home, I examined the photographs closely which revealed two Chinese crested terns were present. The photos show clearly the black tipped bill and pearl grey mantle. A tiny white spot at the tip of the bill is evident in other photos and video we have examined but it is not certain that all individuals carry this spot and at all times of year.


Del Hoyo, Elliott and Sargatal (Handbook of the birds of the world, Lynx Edicions, 1996) indicate that very little is known about this species distribution, status and behaviour. They postulate that the tern occurs in estuaries, which is supported by our observations - the Matsu Islands are located near the mouth of the Ming River in the Peoples Republic of China. 


August 2006 update


History of the Matsu Tern (Chinese Crested Tern, Sterna bernsteini), in the Matsu Tern Reserve, Matsu Archipelago, Taiwan


2000:  12 – 4 pairs, each with 1 chick;


2001:  1 – adult, disappeared;


2002:  9 – 3 pairs, each with 1 chick;


2003:  2 – adults, breeding success unknown;


2004:  15 – 6 breeding pairs on two islands; 3 chicks observed;


2005:  2 – adults, breeding success unknown;


2006:  8 – 2 pairs, 3 chicks, 1 yearling


TIBA, August 2006


To visit the Matsu Islands or learn more about the Chinese crested tern in Taiwan, contact Simon Liao.


「國際台灣觀鳥學會」網站             91報導

賞鳥到台灣                                                                                                                                      Dr.Robert Butler

Birding Taiwan

黑嘴端鳳頭燕鷗是目前世界上最稀有的鳥類之一,被認為已經絕種。幸虧台灣「行政院農業委員會」委請「中華民國野鳥學會」拍攝馬祖保育區影片,電影製作人梁皆得(Liang Chiei-de)和張壽華(Chang Zen Hua)於2002年再次發現黑嘴端鳳頭燕鷗。中央研究院動物研究所研究員劉小如証實他們的發現。劉小如指出,這是一世紀以來不尋常的事。自從2000年首度發現以來,每年在離台灣西北大約180公里的馬祖列島,會看到極少數的黑嘴端鳳頭燕鷗。












戴南(Del Hoyo,艾略特(Ellott)和沙格特(Sargatal)(1996Lynx Edicions出版之「世界鳥類手冊」)指出,很少人知道這種特殊鳥類分佈、狀態及行為。他們假定燕鷗出現在河口,這是我們觀察所支持的論點-馬祖列島接近中華人民共和國閩江河口。