13 Aug 2014

A big comeback for Chinese Crested Terns in the Jiushan Islands, China

Chinese Crested Terns have had a successful year on Jiushan Islands (Chen Li;
By Martin Fowlie

Chinese Crested Terns on the Jiushan Islands have had a second and even more successful year: at least 43 Chinese Crested Terns arrived and stayed on the island of Tiedun Dao this breeding season (from mid-May to early August 2014), and at least 20 breeding pairs were formed. In early August, no less than 13 young Chinese Crested Terns fledged. For a species with a previously known global population of no more than 30 birds, this is a remarkable success.

Chinese Crested Terns were presumed extinct in the late 20th century. This species was rediscovered at the Mazu Islands along the coast of Fujian Province in 2000, and one new colony was discovered at the Jiushan Islands, Xiangshan County of Zhejiang Province, in 2004. However, because of illegal egg collection the terns ceased to breed on the Jiushans after 2007 and the colony apparently moved to the Wuzhishan Islands in the same province. Since 2011, BirdLife International and the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (BirdLife in Hong Kong) have been working with Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, the Zhejiang Wild Bird Society, the Ocean and Fishery Bureau of Xiangshan County and a team of tern experts from Oregon State University in the United States on a restoration project for Chinese Crested Terns in the Jiushan Islands, using decoys and playback of tern calls developed by Prof Steve Kress, Vice President for Bird Conservation at Audubon (BirdLife in the USA)

The restoration work started during the breeding season in 2013. The first year was successful, but the new colony got a late start compared to the normal tern breeding season. This year, a simple monitoring station was built on Tiedun Dao, the 2-hectare island chosen for breeding colony restoration. Simba Chan, BirdLife’s Senior Conservation Officer for Asia stayed on the island from May until early August to monitor the tern breeding colony. An attempt to poach eggs from the colony was prevented and a poacher was arrested. Three typhoons passed through or near the Jiushan Islands during the season, but luckily did not cause damage to the breeding birds and their young. By the end of the breeding season, a large quantity of useful data regarding the breeding biology of Chinese Crested Terns had been collected and these data will likely prove very useful for future management and design of additional restoration projects for this Critically Endangered species.

This is an excellent result from the first two years of this restoration project. What is needed now, is to encourage terns to breed on the Wuzhishan Islands and the Mazu Islands next year. So stay tuned….

This project has been possible through the generous support of the Xiangshan Ocean and Fishery Bureau, the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, the Japan Fund for Global Environment, the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation (Hong Kong), Endangered Species Fund from the State Forestry Administration of China, Pacific Seabird Group and BirdLife International Preventing Extinctions Programme supporter - Mark Constantine. The two organisations in Zhejiang also provided significant logistical support there that helped make the project such a resounding success. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (Wildlife Without Borders) supported the project by providing decoys and playback equipment.