A paddling of Whio Ducks has hatched at Auckland Zoo! These special ducklings are the first Whio born at the New Zealand facility in five years, and as part of their breed-for-release programme, they are destined for life at a beautiful North Island river.
Over the next eight weeks, as they continue to grow, they will eventually head to a duckling ‘boot-camp’ at a Department of Conservation facility in Turangi. There they will build up their muscles and learn to fly, which will prepare them for a new life in the wild. In 2002 Auckland Zoo successfully released eleven Whio chicks.
This iconic native New Zealand bird features prominently on the countries $10 currency note, and it is nationally endangered. They require clean, fast flowing streams to swim in, and because of this, are a key indicator of the health of native rivers.
Once found in the North and South Island, of New Zealand, their numbers have reduced greatly due to pollution and predation.
Whio releases into the wild are a great example of the work that Auckland Zoo does behind-the-scenes with partners like DOC Whio Forever, in an effort to conserve native wildlife.
Although these new ducklings are off display, adult Whio can be seen by Zoo visitors swimming in the streams in The High Country aviary in Te Wao Nui.
The Whio Duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) is a member of the family Anatidae and is endemic to New Zealand. It is the only member of the genus Hymenolaimus.
Outside of New Zealand, the bird is usually referred to as the Blue Duck. The Māori name is “Whio” (pronounced "fee-oh"), which is an onomatopoetic rendition of the males' call.
The Whio or ‘Blue’ Duck is depicted on the reverse side of the New Zealand $10 banknote.
The duck species is a dark slate-grey with a chestnut-flecked breast and a paler bill and eye. The duck hatches with a green beak for just 8 hours after hatching; after which it then develops its final color.
This duck species is an endemic resident breeder in New Zealand, nesting in hollow logs, small caves and other sheltered spots. It is a rare species, holding territories on fast flowing mountain rivers. It is a powerful swimmer even in strong currents, but is reluctant to fly.
It feeds almost entirely on aquatic invertebrates, with the majority of food items being made up of caddisfly larvae. It may on occasion take berries and the fruits of shrubs.
In the wild, Blue Ducks nest between August and October, laying 4-9 creamy white eggs. The female incubates the eggs for 35 days and chicks can fly when about 70 days old.
Nesting and egg incubation of up to seven eggs is undertaken by the female, while the male stands guard. Nests are shallow, under riverside vegetation or in logjams, and are therefore very prone to spring floods. For this, and other reasons, their breeding success is extremely variable from one year to the next.
The Blue Duck is classified as “Endangered” by the IUCN due to its highly fragmented and shrinking population, and it is listed as Nationally Endangered in the New Zealand Threat Classification System. In 2009, the New Zealand Department of Conservation started a ten-year recovery programme to protect the species at eight sites using predator control and then re-establish populations throughout their entire former range. A 2010 census estimated a total population size of 2,500-3,000 individuals, with a maximum of 1,200 pairs.
In 2011 the New Zealand Department of Conservation and Genesis Energy started the Whio Forever Project, a five-year management programme for Whio. It will enable the implementation of a national recovery plan that will double the number of fully operational secure Blue Duck breeding sites throughout New Zealand, and boost pest control efforts.