More Birds in TaiwanEurasian Teal
SPOTLIGHT ON TAIWAN “Endemic Subspecies of Taiwan birds—first impressions”, by N. J. Collar, from BirdingASIA No. 2, December 2004. Presented with permission. BirdingASIA is the bulletin of the Oriental Bird Club. Please see our Links page for benefits of membership in the OBC.
Chinese Crested Tern
Rare Bird Alert!
Chinese Crested Tern (Sterna bernsteini), “disappeared” for 20 years, and was thought perhaps extinct. This photograph of a Chinese Crested Tern (right; black-tipped yellow-orange bill) with Caspian Terns (Sterna caspia), was taken by Ong Long-shin, on April 17, 1998, at the mouth of the Pachang Hsi (Pachang River), Chiayi County, Taiwan.
Chinese Crested Tern is a medium sized tern (35–36 cm), a little smaller than Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus, much smaller than Great Crested Tern Sterna bergii, and Caspian Tern Sterna caspia, but larger than Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus.
The head of the breeding adult is white, with a crested black cap. The long, slender bill is yellow-orange (not pure ‘yellow’, as often described and depicted), except for the distal third, which is black. Upperparts: pale pearl grey, rump white. Underparts: white. Upperwing is mostly pale pearl grey, with outer webs of outer 3–5 primaries blackish; secondaries narrowly tipped white. Underwing is mostly white. The tail is white, and deeply forked. Legs and feet are black. The overall impression is of a very pale bird.
The non-breeding adult is similar, except that the extreme tip of the bill is whitish. The forehead is extensively white; the crown is mottled black and white, merging into the black nape.
The immature has brownish mottling on upperparts; the inner part of the wing lining is paler with two dark bars on the inner wing. Back and tail are whitish with brown mottling.
BirdLife International considers this species Critically Endangered. First described in 1863, numbers have always been very small, and the species was thought extinct for many years. On April 17, 1998, Ong Long-Shin photographed a Chinese Crested Tern with Caspian Terns at the mouth of the Pachang River, Chiayi County, Taiwan, but at the time, did not realize what the smaller bird was.
In 1996, the Wild Bird Federation of Taiwan co-ordinated a study of the bird ecology of the Matsu (Matzu, Mazu) Archipelago in Taiwan Strait, which is administered as Liengchiang County by Taiwan (Republic of China) but situated less than 6 km from northern Fujian Province on the Chinese mainland (People’s Republic of China). The Matsu group consists of 36 islands; 5 major islands and 31 smaller islets; several of the uninhabited islets support gull and tern breeding colonies. Eight of the islands and islets were officially designated as “National Matsu Nature Reserve for Terns” in January 2000. Meanwhile, in June 1999, the Wild Bird Federation of Taiwan, supported by the Lienchiang County government, began a project to film the tern breeding colonies. Liang Chieh-Teh, producer of the film, and Chang Shou-Hua, Chairman of the Wild Bird Society of Matsu, were in charge. Later, while editing film of a Great Crested Tern colony, they noticed that there were a few smaller birds present, also; these were subsequently identified as Chinese Crested Terns.
On August 13, 2005, Simon Liao, Chairman, International Taiwan Birding Association (Canada); Dr. Robert Butler, Canadian Wildlife Service; Legislator Yang Chung-Tse; Lin Maw-Nan, Vice Chair, Taiwan International Birding Association; Chang Shou-Hua, Chair, Wild Bird Society of Matsu, co-discoverer of the birds in 2000, and Jason Yuan, Senior Information Officer, found two Chinese Crested Terns, in a flock of 40 Great Crested Terns on the tiny islet of Ching Yu in the Matsu Scenic Area. Dr. Butler’s account of that event can be found on our Birding Stories page.
We thank Liang Chieh-Teh for permission to include his photographs of Chinese Crested Tern.
Chinese Crested Tern Art by Wang Chen-Wen
Chieh-Teh Liang, Shou-Hua Chang, Woei-horng Fang, from OBC Bulletin 32, December 2000, Little known Oriental bird; discovery of a breeding colony of Chinese Crested Tern. Reprinted with permission.
Easton, A. Chinese Crested Tern, Sterna bernsteini; a brief history, http://home.clara.net/ammodytes/chinatern.htm Reprinted with permission.
Harrison, P. Seabirds, an Identification Guide, (1983)
MacKinnon, J. and K. Phillipps. Field Guide to the Birds of China, (2000)
Zhang Kejia, Yu Xi, Gan Xiaojing and D. Melville. BirdingASIA, No. 2, Dec. 2004; Chinese Crested Tern at Chongming Dao, Shanghai, China.
Little known Oriental bird: Discovery of a breeding colony of Chinese Crested Tern
by Chieh-Teh Liang, Shou-Hua Chang, and Woei-horng Fang, from OBC Bulletin 32, December 2000.
Prior to the recent observations detailed
below, the Chinese Crested Tern was only known from a few old specimens
and sight records. There are a few historical records from China including
21 collected off Shandong in 1937. More recent records from China are of
three birds observed on sand flats at Beidaihe on 10 June 1978 and a
further three, probably of this species were observed at the mouth of the
Yellow River in Sept 1991.
The Chinese Crested Tern is a critically
endangered species. It was first described in 1863 and since its discovery
only five group of birds have been recorded. The two most recent records
concerned ten in Thailand in July 1980 and three in northern China in
September 1991. Several authors consider this bird may already be extinct
A three year project to study bird ecology in
the area, coordinated by Wild Bird Federation of Taiwan (formerly Chinese
Wild Bird Federation) and financed by Agriculture Improvement Bureau of
Lienchiang County began in April 1996 and improved our understanding of
the bird fauna. The survey found that several uninhabited islets are very
important breeding sites for terns with large colonies of Greater Crested
Tern Sterna bergii, Bridled Tern, S. anaethetus and Roseate Tern S.
dougallii. The results of the survey prompted the Lienchiang County
Government to define the islets as a nature reserve and in January 2000,
eight islets used by breeding terns were officially designated as
'National Matzu Nature Reserve for Terns' by Central Government Council of
Note: Under a different spelling system, Matzu may be spelled as Matsu and Liangchiang as Lian-jiang.
1. Robson, C. (2000) A field guide to the birds of south-east Asia. New Holland: UK.
2. Viney, C, Phillipps, K., and Lam, C.Y. (1996) Birds of Hong Kong and South China. Hong Kong.
3. del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A., and Sargata, J. eds (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol 3, Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona: Spain.
4. Harrison, P. (1983) Seabirds, an identification guide. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, USA.
5. duPont, J.E. (1971) Philippine Birds. Delaware Museum of Natural History, Greenville: USA.
6. Lekagul, B., and Round, P.D. (1991) A Guide to the Birds of Thailand. Bangkok: Thailand.
7. Sonobe, K. and Usui S. eds (1993) A field guide to the water birds of Asia. Wild Bird Society of Japan. Tokyo: Japan.
Copyright © Oriental Bird Club 1984-2005. All rights reserved.
by Andrew Easton
The Chinese Crested Tern has always been rare and little known; further confusion was caused by it being independently described and named twice, first as Sterna bernsteni by Schlegel in 1863, and then S. zimmermanni by Reichenow in 1903
breeding grounds had never been discovered, but in 1937, 21 were killed
for specimens on islands near Qingdao (Tsingtao) on the Shandong
Peninsula in north east China. Some of these were reported to be in
breeding condition, so it has always been assumed that this was a
After the 1937 massacre (I can think of no more appropriate word for it) the species was not recorded again until June 1980 when 10 were seen near Libong in south Thailand, and three probable ones were seen in the Huang Ho delta in September 1991, just to the north of the presumed breeding range.
The immature plumages and eggs are undescribed, hardly surprising, as killing all the birds that turn up to breed and putting them into draws in museums does tend to inhibit reproductive success.. Similarly its diet and behaviour are completely unknown.
Then in the summer of 2000 quite out of the blue came news that four pairs, with four young between them, had been discovered breeding on an island just off the coast of Fuzhou in China, but administered by Taiwan. This is a long way to the south of the earlier records, but where it has previously been recorded in winter, whether this indicates it to be resident in that area, or just that it returns early to the nesting sites remains to be seen. Provided they are given a chance. Fortunately the island is already a nature reserve so there is a degree of protection here, but egg poaching for food is quoted as a problem in the area.
Article from the Hong Kong iMail newspaper 8th August 2000
Click here to view BBC News website article - this link will open in a new browser window
photograph released to the press taken by the discoverer, Liang
Chieh-teh, shows two adults with one small chick, nesting next to pairs
of Crested Terns S. bergii. The most striking feature is the very
extensive white fore crowns of the Chinese Crested Terns, this came as
quite a surprise as all illustrations of summer plumaged adults were
depicted with full black crowns. The photographs were taken in mid
summer in June, so would be expected to show typical summer plumage. So
not only are its behaviour, nesting details, and immature plumages
unknown, but the seasonal variation in the plumages of the adult birds
is now thrown into some confusion.
Observation of the living birds should reveal the true plumage patterns
of the species far more reliably than individual corpses frozen at a
moment in time ever can.
J., Elliot, A., & Sargatal, J. eds (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol.
3. Hoatzins to Auks. Lynx Edicions,