Ducks Unlimited
Thursday, 05 September 2019 09:23

Captive breeding keeps up Whio numbers

Peter Russell keeps a watchful eye on Whio to make sure the  numbers are kept up and they return as much as possible, to the  areas where they started life.

Breeding Results

The past year has been the best to date with 26 ducklings reared and  released back into the wild. This was achieved by three pairs, the Auckland pair produced 11, the pair at Peacock Springs having 10 and the  Orana pair five. These pairs had all been flock mated. Both the Auckland  and Peacock pairs did double clutch which really helps with numbers  produced.

Three pairs at Hamilton, Palmerston North and Staglands that I was hoping would produce, did nothing. I hope they do better in the coming  season.

Flock Mating

This season we have flock mated four more pairs that gives pairs to  Otorohanga, Mt Bruce, Queenstown and another pair at Peacock. I was a  bit disappointed with Mt Bruce who took so long in sending male birds to  Peacock that the female in the new pair at Peacock laid a clutch of eggs  without a male.

It was also disappointing that no wild clutches came in last season to keep  on making up more pairs for captive population.


The first release of 10 was at Egmont National Park on the January 29 with Andrew Glaser of DoC coming over and taking staff through putting  transponders in and a video team taking footage of this and the release. We had a group of school children who attended and Andy was in his  glory.

The second release was on the Manganui-a-te-ao and it was good to see  Alison Beath also of DoC come down to put the transponders in. We  released a total of eight birds with two older birds which came from there  as juveniles and have only bred once and hadn’t done anything for the last  three years. It was a great day. Lots of school children.

The third release was on the Tongariro which also went really well with  lots of people and Genesis staff involved. Six birds were released. The last release was back at Egmont on a Saturday so their volunteers  could attend as most of them work during the week. There were four birds plus a duckling I had hand reared and then sent to Peacock Springs  so it would be brought up with other birds.

It has been so much better now with Air New Zealand sponsorship for  moving ducks about and saving costs on breeders and Peacock Springs  when sending for release. It is a bit more work for me but it goes with the  job.


Duckling quality is very good and I am sure that the matting’s we are  doing with eggs that are coming in is paying off with a very good bird for release.

Deaths for the year

There were seven deaths during the year. Two were neonatal and one a 20-year-old male and another 19-year-old male. We also lost 15 males  including one eight-year-old. These males were not in the breeding programme.

The breeding male from Auckland Zoo died after a very good first season. The female is now at Mt Bruce and has been flock mated with the surplus wild males.

Pairs still needed at: 1. Nga Manu, 2. Mt Bruce, 3. Peacock Springs, 4. Kowhai Aviary, 5. Willowbank, 6. Auckland Zoo, and 7. Ron Munro. We need to bring in more clutches this coming season. Releases for next year Egmont wants to carry on releasing next season though we still need to look for new sites. Also returning birds to areas were the clutches of eggs are from.




Published in Issue 157
Tuesday, 27 August 2019 06:17

First Whio duckling in 15 years

Staff at Pukaha Mount Bruce were excited in late October last year with the arrival of the first whio (blue duck) to be hatched there in over 15 years.

The only one of four eggs to hatch, the duckling was raised with three other ‘exotic’ ducklings. The duckling’s mother was then put on another clutch of eggs and with hopes for a better hatch rate from the second clutch.

Staff are still unsure of the sex of this first whio. At approximately six months old a male whio will whistle when picked up and a female whio will grunt.

Published in Issue 158
Monday, 22 July 2019 02:35

Whio care pays off

A successful breeding season for whio included 16 juveniles that arrived safely in the North Island from Peacock Springs. They were collected from the airport by DU member and Palmerston North aviary keeper Peter Russell.

Peter said that 33 captive birds have been bred this summer.

“It’s also been the best season in the wild that we’ve had.”

The birds had been hardened to fast flowing water at Peacock Spring ready to be introduced to real fast flowing rivers.

A hardening facility is planned at the National Trout Centre (see story page 12) which means less travel for North Island birds.
Each of these new birds has been micro chipped so they could be identified if found again.
The birds were released on the Manganui o te Ao River in an area protected by the Kia Wharite biodiversity project.


Published in Issue 159
Monday, 22 July 2019 02:31

Finishing school for whio

The Whio Forever partnership is adding another tool to its arsenal of protection this year with funding to build a new whio rearing facility at the Tongariro National Trout Centre near Turangi.

National Whio Recovery Group leader Andrew Glaser said the North Island whio rearing facility will help recover the national whio population by allowing whio ducklings to ‘grow and train’ in a more natural environment. “It’s like a finishing school for whio, where they can learn to swim and feed in fast flowing water, giving them a better chance of survival when they are released back into the wild.

“A facility like this will mean more ducklings survive the transition from captivity back to the wild, so they can establish their own territories and find mates. This will help us boost the population in the wild,” he said. Andrew pointed to the success of restoring the whio population in Egmont National Park which has been achieved through a combination of predator control activities and the release of captive reared birds over the past nine years.
“We’ve been able to bring whio back from local extinction, and develop the tools and knowledge to enable us to do this in other areas of the country.

“This is the first successful restoration of a whio population in New Zealand. It is a credit to the Taranaki community and shows what can be done with an effective trapping regime and WHIONE (lifting eggs and hatching and rearing in safe captivity).”

The whio population in Egmont National Park has grown from almost nothing to 24 pairs of whio since 2005. This breeding season a record 36 ducklings hatched in the park, although it’s not yet known how many of these will survive into adulthood.

Two whio rangers on the Manganui o te Ao River – searching for whio travel on unique water craft manufactured by our multi talented DOC rangers!
The Tongariro National Trout Centre’s rearing facility will give more whio ducklings a fighting chance of making it to fledglings in a safe secure environment. 
Using existing infrastructure at the centre the facility will be constructed on one of the redundant trout raceways and will give visitors the chance to see whio and learn more about the iconic bird. Existing whio rearing or hardening facilities
are located at Te Anau and at Peacock Springs near Christchurch. Using South Island facilities means extended travel for North Island whio ducklings. Constructing a low cost facility in the North Island reduces the
risk and expense associated with this.

The facility will cost an estimated $110,000 with funding from the Whio Forever 
partnership, DOC and the Central North Island Blue Duck Charitable Trust.
Construction should be completed for the arrival of the first ducklings in September this year.

The support of Genesis Energy is enabling DOC to double the number of fully secure whio breeding sites throughout the country, boost pest control efforts and enhance productivity and survival for these rare native ducks.


Published in Issue 159
Monday, 22 July 2019 01:16

Whio Forever

Whio Forever wins green ribbon award

The Whio Forever recovery programme won the Ministry for the Environment Green Ribbon Award this year for protecting our biodiversity. 

The Awards recognise outstanding contributions of individuals, organisations, 
businesses and communities to protecting and enhancing New Zealand’s environment.

The National Whio Recovery Programme is a partnership between Genesis Energy, the Department of Conservation, Forest and Bird and the Central North Island Blue Duck Charitable Trust. It is focused on the protection and recovery of the whio, a threatened native bird and supports whio security and recovery 
sites across the country.

Genesis Energy Environmental Manager, Bonny Lawrence and the Department of Conservation Whio Recovery Group Leader, Andrew Glaser accepted the award from the department’s Director General, Lou Sanson. 
Genesis Energy’s Chief Executive, Albert Brantley said the credit for winning the award has to go to the large community of people nationwide who are dedicated to the protection of whio.
“This award recognises the efforts of all of the people who are involved in protecting the whio and raising the profile of this iconic bird. That Genesis Energy is able to fund and support this work is something we are very proud off,” said Albert.
Sponsorship from Genesis Energy will enable the 10-year recovery plan to be delivered ahead of schedule. The target number of whio pairs to be protected at recovery sites has doubled to 200 pairs. Based on results to date it is estimated that by 2016, the target of 400 protected whio pairs will be reached at the
eight security sites Receiving the award DOC’s Whio Recovery Group Leader Andrew Glaser said it was exciting the Whio Forever partnership was 
acknowledged, as the Awards recognised a wide range of amazing environmental initiatives around New Zealand.
“It was inspirational to hear about the incredible work happening across the country, and to talk to people who have the same passion and drive to make changes to our natural environment.
“The whio is an icon of our waterways, where there are whio there are healthy, clean waterways so this programme is incredibly important,” he said.

Andy also acknowledged the many whio practitioners and community supporters
who have contributed to the success of the programme.

The whio recovery programme also funds WHIONE projects (Whio Operation Nest Egg) that allows wild whio populations to be boosted with ducklings hatched and raised in safe havens, then released into the wild.


Published in Issue 161
Sunday, 20 January 2019 06:05

Positive Whio captive results

Breeding Results 2013-2014


What a great year we have had with 33 ducklings reared and released over the last two weeks in March. This is a new record. Peacocks, two pairs lead the charge with having three clutch’s each and producing 23 and then Mt Bruce’s pair produced six from two clutch’s and Orana pair had four. 

Queenstown pair did have one but it died at seven-weeks-old which was a shame. The pair from Auckland had infertile eggs but the female had been flocked mated not long before at Mt Bruce after losing her mate. The pair at Hamilton did nothing as well as the pair at Staglands. The pair at Palmerston North Esplanade did lay three eggs and one being fertile but died in the shell. The pair at Otorohonga did lay a clutch but nothing came from them.  

Egmont met a milestone with 100 known birds on the mountain. 

  • 77 Eggs 
  • 49 Fertile 
  • 40 Hatched 
  • 33 Ducklings reared. 

All released. 

Release Tongariro March 11, 2014 

6 Captive breed. 

Release Egmont  March 13, 2014 

14 Captive breed 

2 Whione                                  

Release Manganui –a-te-ao March 20, 2014 

13 Captive breed birds 

Released Birds to Date from 2000 to 2014 

141 released Egmont National Park 

25 released Manganui –a-te-ao 

12 released Tongariro area 


Deaths for the year 3.1 

1 male Auckland Zoo 14 years 

1 male Staglands 13 years 

1 female Hamilton Zoo 18 years 

1 male Otorohanga 3 years 

Peter Russell 



Published in Issue 161
A ‘ghost’ whio that hatched on the Whakapapanui Stream in Tongariro National Park two seasons ago appears to have returned to the stream near Whakapapa Village - with a mate this time.

Nicknamed the ghost whio due to its very pale light blue grey colouring the duck was part of a clutch that hatched on the stream close to Whakapapa Village two years ago.
Captured in family photos at that time the unusual coloured duck has not been seen close to the village since.

However, Hastings resident Adam Clarke  was excited to report the sighting and to get photographs of the unique ghost blue duck while in the area during school holidays whio spotting. 

“I was excited when I spotted the duck just below the Whakapapanui Stream bridge. I had already spent a couple of days looking in the Turangi and Tongariro area and after an afternoon scouring streams around Whakapapa Village without any luck I was happy to finally see a pair by the Major Jones Bridge in Turangi,” said Adam.
“But I was just blown away when I took a chance and stopped at the Whakapapanui Bridge just above the village. I looked over the side of bridge  to see this amazing specimen!
“I feel very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time,” said Adam who believes the ghost whio is male as he heard the signature whistle.

Tongariro Senior Ranger Alison Beath said staff were also excited to hear the ghost whio was back in the area.

“This duck hatched below the Whakapapa Intake a couple of seasons ago, and we’ve had sporadic reports of him from the lower Whakapapanui Stream. It’s great he’s shown up again, as we weren’t sure if he had survived  or not,” said Alison.

“His light colouring obviously hasn’t been a disadvantage yet - in fact he seems to be quite well camouflaged when he is in the white water.”
Alison said the distinctive duck had not been tagged as it was preferred to leave them alone as much as possible however it was encouraging to see he was with another duck which could mean he has found a mate and may remain in the area.

It appears the whio season started early with the first ducklings reported hatched in the Tongariro Forest site earlier in October and in  other areas at the start of the month.

Genesis Energy and the Department of Conservation have partnered together in a five year programme to secure the future of this unique vulnerable native bird. Operating under the name of Whio Forever this partnership is fast tracking implementation of the national Whio Recovery Plan to protect whio and increase public awareness.

The support of Genesis Energy is enabling DOC to double the number of fully secure whio breeding sites throughout the country, boost pest control efforts and enhance productivity and survival for these rare native ducks.

Stephen Moorhouse and  
Robyn Orchard


Published in Issue 162
Thursday, 12 April 2018 04:35

Whio release at Little Maketawa Stream

Freedom at last for the first 17 whio released this year into the Little Maketawa Stream at Egmont National Park. “It went well,” said Peter Russell.
A special karakia for all the birds was conducted by Sandy Parata from Ngati Runaui, before the birds were released.  And they were really happy to get into that water.
Mr Parata has been actively involved in the Egmont National Park whio reestablishment programme. 
Emily King, Senior Biodiversity Ranger  with DoC said “The success of our project would not have been possible without the support of the Central North Island Blue Duck Conservation Trust as they have been very committed and actively involved in the Egmont National Park whio reestablishment programme.”


Published in Issue 163
Thursday, 12 April 2018 04:29

Captive Whio and new facility

It is looking like another record year of ducklings being produced with hopefully 39 being released. Peacock Springs with 18, Mt Bruce with 16 and Orana with five. Could have been more but you can never count your ducklings till you have them on the ground.
It is really great to see more ducklings produced each year and could be more if all the breeders had new pairs.
This facility has been build at the Tongariro National Trout Centre in some of the trout runs. I did go up earlier in the year and with helping Andrew Smart did the shaping of what you can see in the photos.
There were 12 ducks in the enclosures doing well and a lot flying around and diving into the water. Another 11 birds were put in the other side.
New Hardening Facility
This new facility will make it easier for  North Island breeders to send their birds there, rather than the South Island for hardening.
On December 4 last year I took six birds, that came from Peacock Springs, up to the Trout Centre for the opening of the Hardening Facility by the Minister of Conservation Maggie Barry and the CEO of Genesis Albert Brantley, as this was a joint project between Genesis and the Department.
At the opening there was a welcome from Haukainga for the visitors and then a welcome from Mihi/Whakatau to manuhiri/ visitors - Ned Wikaira followed by a reply on behalf of the visitors -Pou Tairanghau. We had refreshments by the new facility and heard speeches from Albert Brantley, Maggie Barry and then the National Whio Recovery Group Leader Andrew Glaser.
The Minister and Genesis CEO then cut the ribbon to declare the facility open. This facility was funded by Genesis and the Department of Conservation.
The birds were released into the new enclosure which was great.
Peter Russell
Whio Captive Co-ordinator  


Published in Issue 163
Monday, 19 March 2018 06:46

Fabulous Whio

The whio or blue duck, which features on our $10 note, is endemic to New Zealand. Rarer than some species of kiwi, with an estimated population of under 3000, it is nationally vulnerable and faces the risk of becoming extinct. 
Their Maori name is whio whio, and they are found nowhere else in the world. A river specialist, they inhabit clean, fast flowing streams in the forested upper catchments of our rivers. 
Nesting along the riverbanks, they are at high risk of attack from stoats and rats. 
Staglands Wildlife Reserve have had whio for many years and are one on New Zealand’s most successful breeders of this iconic bird. Their current pairs’ aviary is undergoing major renovations. The plan is that it will become a much larger, walk-through aviary that will house not only the whio but also kakariki and possibly kaka, with the ultimate goal being to offer visitors an even better  experience. 
In 1976, Staglands was a world leader in developing the first walk-through aviary for their kea, well ahead of what was considered the norm at the time. For owner, John Simisters the motivation was simple, ‘to offer both visitors and the kea a richer interaction’
Today, 40 years on, walk-through aviaries are recognised as best practice by the industry. Given this track record visitors should be in for a treat, once renovations are completed, later this year. 


Published in Issue 164
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