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Chinese crested tern

Thalasseus bernsteini

Photo: Chinese crested tern
State of endangerment
Animal description
The Chinese crested tern (Thalasseus bernsteini) is a rare and enigmatic bird species that belongs to the family Laridae, which includes terns and gulls. This bird is distinguished by its striking appearance and its precarious conservation status, making it one of the most sought-after sightings for birdwatchers and conservationists alike.

Characterized by its medium size, the Chinese crested tern typically measures about 40-45 cm in length, with a wingspan that ranges from 90 to 100 cm. One of the most distinctive features of this bird is its elegant plumage. During the breeding season, adults display a striking black cap that contrasts beautifully with their pale grey back and wings. The underparts are predominantly white, adding to the bird's graceful appearance in flight. Perhaps the most iconic feature is the long, slender, and sharply pointed bill, which is bright orange with a distinctive black tip, making it easily distinguishable from other tern species.

Another characteristic feature of the Chinese crested tern is its crest, from which it derives its name. The crest consists of a few elongated feathers that protrude from the back of the head, giving the bird a distinguished look. This feature is more pronounced in breeding adults and adds to the overall allure of the species.

The Chinese crested tern is a seabird and, like many of its relatives, it is highly adapted to life at sea. It feeds primarily on fish, which it catches with remarkable precision by diving into the water from considerable heights. This tern is also known to feed on crustaceans and other small marine organisms, showcasing its adaptability and prowess as a hunter.

Breeding behavior of the Chinese crested tern is a fascinating aspect of its biology. The species nests in small, scattered colonies on uninhabited islands or isolated beaches, laying one to two eggs in a simple scrape on the ground. Both parents share the responsibilities of incubation and chick rearing, demonstrating a strong bond and commitment to their offspring.

Unfortunately, the Chinese crested tern is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Its population is alarmingly low, with estimates suggesting fewer than 100 breeding pairs remaining in the wild. The primary threats to its survival include habitat destruction, human disturbance, predation by introduced species, and illegal egg collection. Conservation efforts are underway to protect and restore its habitat, enforce laws against egg collection, and raise awareness about the species' plight.

The Chinese crested tern's rarity and the challenges it faces for survival make it a symbol of the fragility of our planet's biodiversity. Efforts to conserve the Chinese crested tern not only help secure the future of this remarkable bird but also underscore the importance of preserving ecosystems and the myriad of life they support.
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