A greater number of critically endangered Chinese crested terns, previously thought to be extinct, have been spotted in the Matsu archipelago, with their population expected to exceed 100 in the near future.
The Forestry Bureau said 13 adults and four chicks had been observed at tern conservation areas on the islands last month, contributing to a total of 75 adults and 24 chicks spotted this year at the species’ three known breeding sites.
The other two sites are the Jiushan Islands and the Wushishan Islands in China’s Zhejiang Province.
Photo provided by Wang Chien-hua
It was the first time in three years that chicks had been seen in the Matsu islands, the bureau’s conservation official Hsia Jung-sheng (夏榮生) said.
Known for its white rump, pale grey mantle and the black-tipped bill, the species is among the most threatened varieties of seabird worldwide and the birds were assumed to be extinct until they were rediscovered on the Matsu archipelago in 2000, the bureau said.
The seabirds’ global population was estimated to be less than 50 prior to 2000, making the species rarer than the black-faced spoonbills, of which there are an estimated 3,000, the bureau said.
The rediscovery of the birds in 2000 was the first time their breeding activity had been recorded. They were not seen elsewhere until 2004, when they were spotted on the Jiushan Islands, the bureau said.
Academics and birdwatchers regard the species as almost mythological because of their rarity and the difficulty of tracing them, the bureau said.
The Chinese crested tern was designated “critically endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species in 2012 and is classified as an endangered species on Taiwan’s three-category wildlife protection list.
The bureau teamed up with the Lienchiang County Government and National Taiwan University (NTU) in 2010 to conserve and study the birds, the bureau said, adding that a research team led by NTU professor Yuan Hsiao-wei (袁孝維) found that populations at the three breeding sites interact with each other.
To attract terns of different species and boost breeding, the research team and Wild Bird Society of Taipei have positioned models of greater crested terns and decoys on islets around Matsu, which has encouraged favorable breeding conditions since 2011.
The conservation areas were expanded this year, with Tiejian Island (鐵尖島) being the main conservation site with the highest density, which saw nearly 3,000 greater crested terns and 10 Chinese crested terns coming to the area in May, the bureau said.
“A total of 4,000 adults and nearly 1,000 chicks of the greater crested tern and 13 adults and four chicks of the Chinese crested tern have been seen as of last month, which suggests successful conservation efforts,” the bureau said.
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