Cooperative Research Units
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Conservation of the Critically Endangered Chinese Crested Tern: Restoration of a Lost Breeding Colony


October 2012 - March 2019


In the latter half of the 20th Century, Chinese Crested Terns (Sterna bernsteini) were presumed to be extinct, with no documented observations after 1937. In 2000, however, Chinese Crested Terns were rediscovered nesting in the Matzu Islands of the Taiwan Strait. Subsequent surveys by Chinese ornithologists revealed an additional breeding site in the Jiushan Islands of Xiangshan County, Zhejiang Province. Human disturbance – fisherman collecting eggs - later caused the abandonment of this colony. Despite their recent rediscovery, Chinese Crested Terns are still considered one of the most endangered seabird species in the world and one of the most critically endangered vertebrate species. Recovery of this species is possible, however, if nesting habitat can be established and protected. The goal of this project is to restore the Chinese Crested Tern to the Jiushan Islands, using techniques of social attraction and colony monitoring successfully applied to seabird restoration projects throughout the world. The specific proposal to the Wildlife Without Borders program was to fund the manufacture of Chinese Crested Tern decoys and solar-powered audio playback systems to play recordings of Chinese Crested Tern calls. Terns are highly gregarious colonial-nesting species which can be attracted to sites with suitable nesting habitat using decoys and recorded calls. This equipment would play an important role in the effort to restore Chinese Crested Terns to a former nesting area. The restoration project is a collaborative effort of several Chinese and American institutions (Xiangshan County Marine and Fishery Bureau, Zhejiang Natural History Museum, Oregon State University, and the U.S. Geological Survey – Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit). Support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Without Borders program has furthered this international collaboration to save one of the world’s most critically endangered animals.

Research Products and Activities

Peer Reviewed Publications

  • Chen, S., Z. Fan, D.D. Roby, Y. Lu, C. Chen, Q. Huang, L. Cheng, and J. Zhu. 2015. Human harvest, climate change and their synergistic effects drove the Chinese Crested Tern to the brink of extinction. Global Ecology and Conservation 4:137-145. Abstract | 


  • Roby, D.D. 2017. Restoring tern colonies using social attraction: the crucial role of monitoring. Chinese Crested Tern Conservation Conference, Matsu Islands, Taiwan, 10 November.

Current Staff

Federal Staff: 95

Masters Students: 238

Phd Students: 144

Post Docs: 54

University Staff: 239

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 673

Scientific Publications: 1905

Presentations: 4235



Funding Agencies

  • Wildlife Without Borders – Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Fund


Cooperative Research Units Program Headquarters Cooperators

  1. U.S. Geological Survey