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Meet the whio
- Whio are one of our rarest birds, only found in New Zealand and on the $10 note.
- Amazing adaptations see it survive in environments others ducks wouldn't shake a feather at – fast flowing rivers
- Found mainly in Te Urewera, Central North Island, Fiordland, the West Coast and northern South Island.
- What's unique about the whio?
- Camouflage - perfectly camouflaged. Blue/grey in colour gives them their name Blue Duck. The colour helps them blend into their environment.
- Designer lips – whio bill designed like no other - fleshy lip on the end of their bill protects it when they forage
- Navigation – large webbed feet for swimming in the rapids. Even newly hatched ducklings can negotiate the biggest white water.
- Eyes Forward – distinctive yellow eyes forward facing like human to see what's happening ahead
- Size – males weigh about 1000 – 1300 grams and females are slightly lighter at 800 – 1000 grams.
- Call & character – males make the distinctive 'fee-o, fee-o' call while female make a rattly growling noise.
Whio surfing the rapids
- Whio are only found in New Zealand and they are on the $10 note.
- A fleshy lip on the end of their bill protects it when they forage for aquatic insects among the rocks.
- They are perfectly camouflaged. Blue/grey in colour, they look just like a rock!
- Whio live in one of the most challenging environments in the world – fast flowing rivers.
- Whio are white-water specialists. They have big webbed feet for swimming in the rapids. Even day-old chicks can negotiate the biggest white water.
- They need clean water so if you see whio you know the river is healthy.
They can't live in any old waterway – they need fast-flowing high quality water, plants along the bank and lots of underwater insects. Find out more at whioforever.co.nz.
Get to know the whio
- White-water duck: Whio are one of only four duck species in the world who live all year round on fast-flowing rivers.
- Whio families: When it comes to nesting, log jams, caves and dense vegetation are where whio make their nests. The female whio incubates the egg for about 35 days while her, partner stands guard.
- Indicator species: Whio are an 'indicator species', only living on clean, fast-running streams and rivers. Where you find whio, you'll find a clean waterway.
- Whio patrol: Whio fly up and down the stream at low levels like fighter jets protecting their borders early in the morning or late in the evening.
- Territorial (whio fisticuffs): Whio are aggressive defenders of their patch, which can be a stretch of river up to 3 km long. Breeding pairs will chase off or fight other ducks.
- Whio food: Whio feed on the aquatic insect larvae found on the rocks in their river.
- Whio ducklings begin navigating rapids as soon as they hatch.
Giving the whio a fighting chance
With whio numbers around 2,500, the whio is officially vulnerable.
Generous Genesis Energy
Genesis Energy and the Department of Conservation have partnered together in a five year programme to secure the future of this threatened native bird. Operating under the name of Whio Forever, this partnership is implementing a national recovery plan to protect whio and promote whio conservation and awareness.
Whio Forever tools
Whio Forever workers use their own special tools to help secure the whio's future.
- Traps: The Whio Forever focus is on trapping predators and lowering pest numbers in areas of healthy fast ﬂowing rivers. Predator traps are a vital tool for the future of whio.
- Dogs: Conservation Dogs are specially trained for tracking and finding different native birds, including whio in the wild. They can sniff out whio from 1km away, making it easier to find and monitor them.
- Bands: It's important to monitor and keep track of whio. At the security sites they are banded or micro-chipped so whio rangers can identify each bird and track their progress.
- Transmitters: Many female whio have been fitted with radio-transmitters. During the breeding season, Whio Forever workers use aerials to pick up birds' signals and find their nesting sites.
- WHIONE – Whio Nest Egg: The WHIONE (Whio Nest Egg) programme involves removing whio eggs from the wild nests early in the breeding season to allow wild pairs to re-nest and raise their ducklings. The eggs collected through WHIONE are taken to captive rearing facilities where they are incubated, hatched and reared to a survivable weight.
Under threat – whio foes
The greatest threat to whio survival comes from introduced animals: stoats, ferrets, and feral cats.
- Predators: Who would have thought weka, cats, and dogs could be bad guys? Like stoats and ferrets, weka, and feral cats have been known to eat whio eggs, as have falcon, harriers, and other birds.
- People: Habitat loss, through changing land and water use, has affected whio. Urbanisation, deforestation, agriculture and river diversion have all adversely affected waterway routes where whio live.
- Weather: Even isolated from predators, nature itself can have an impact on whio numbers; flooding events can wash away nests and ducklings.
- The moult: Between February and May, whio moult. This loss of plumage is a vulnerable time for whio as they are grounded.
Stoats are the major predators, but even nature can be unfriendly; flooded rivers destroy nests and drown vulnerable ducklings.
The whio year
- April–July: Time for romance. Whio start looking for a mate; find their match and settle down.
- August: Time to find a piece of paradise, build a nest and breed.
- September: Female whio sit on their eggs for around 35 days while their mate stands guard.
- October: Excitement – the ducklings are hatching.
- Nov–Dec: The whio family hang out for about 80 days from birth to fledgling when their young whio start to find their wings.
- January: Teenage whio fledge and leave the nest. Adult whio are now vulnerable as they start to moult.
- February: Time to release WHIONE (captive breed) fledglings back into the wild.
- March: Whio Awareness Month. Time to let people know about whio – lots of whio activity including Whio Family Fun days at Auckland Zoo.
This map shows where there are whio security sites, captive whio, rearing facilities, and whio recovery sites.
Spot the whio
This poster shows whio well-camouflaged within their natural habitat.
About the resource
- Early childhood
- Native animals
Curriculum learning areas
- The arts
- Education for sustainability
- Health and physical education
- Mathematics and statistics
- Social sciences