Ducks Unlimited NZ

Displaying items by tag: Whio

Thursday, 02 April 2020 13:23

Report on Operation Whio (Blue Duck)

Mr David McNeil opened his remarks commenting that the decision by the Wildlife Service to capture and supply Ducks Unlimited with 10 pairs of birds was received with great enthusiasm as DU had long considered that the development of expertise with this species (before numbers in the wild are affected by habitat reduction and other causes to a dangerously low level)was a logical move.

Mr McNeil outlined background to the project and gave details of experience achieved in adapting the birds to new diet and conditions during acclimatisation. Praise was given to Mr and Mrs I.H. Pirani and Mr M. Powell for their efforts in rearing the birds under aviary conditions — he said it would be difficult to imagine a greater change from conditions in the wild but commented that those involved with rearing had been astonished at the birds' natural quietness and lack of concern when approached closely — perhaps a fatal flaw in their nature. Pair bonding was discussed and experiences with natural pairing shared with the audience.

Overall it was felt that a great deal of progress had been made and Mr McNeil said he hoped the Wildlife Service could catch the balance of their agreed total as a permanent nucleus of captured birds was essential to the survival of the species. The Wildlife Service was being kept fully informed of Ducks Unlimited‘s progress. The only disturbing factor had been the recent reports of poaching of Blue Duck and other wildlife species for overseas markets, and Mr McNeil said Ducks Unlimited would assist with publicity and conservation of this unique species. A member requested that a remit be presented by Ducks Unlimited to the Minister of the Environment inquiring if anything had been done concerning alleged poaching recently reported in the press. 

The President reported that he understood a special task force had been set up by the wildlife Service to investigate the matter of poaching Blue Duck and other species and undertook that a letter would be written to the Minister expressing the organisation's concern and seeking clarification of the position.



Published in Issue 29
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Saturday, 09 November 2019 22:34

Whio exceed target in Fiordland

The Department of Conservation has high hopes for the upcoming whio breeding season in Fiordland. About 64 breeding whio were found earlier this year in a survey of a security site for the blue ducks.

Senior ranger Andrew (Max) Smart says this means the northern Fiordland site is the first in the South Island to exceed the target of 50 breeding pairs.

“Security sites are the highest priority whio conservation areas in the country; there are four in the North Island and four in the South Island.

"The target of 50 breeding pairs is set for each security site through the Whio Recovery Plan. A couple of sites on the North Island have reached this target, but we’re the first confirmed site on the South Island to do so.”


Whio have come a long way since 1999/2000 when only three pairs were found in this security site, Max says. “This year’s number is only a minimum and there could be up to another nine pairs.

“Extended trapping efforts and landscape scale predator control have enabled the whio here, and at key sites around New Zealand, to make a strong comeback.”

Whio are monitored using walk-through river surveys using specially trained conservation dogs. Two surveys a year are planned for each river.

The first survey, in November and December, counts the number of ducklings, as well the number of individual birds and pairs seen. The second survey, generally in January and February, counts the number of fledglings.

Exceeding this target is great news for whio, but according to Max, there is still a lot of work to do to secure a future for this species.

“We are only doing work over a relatively small area and this is where we are making a difference. Predator control has to be kept up and expanded for whio to have a chance to increase in number and spread over their natural range.”



Published in Issue 177
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Monday, 21 October 2019 22:03

AGM Conference and reports

This year’s Ducks Unlimited New Zealand’s 45th conference was held at the Collegiate Motor Inn in Whanganui, with just over 50 attendees. The weather was kind and, after a bitterly cold, wet and windy Friday, turned on the sunshine in time for the field trip on Saturday, 3 August.

President Ross Cottle opened proceedings at the AGM by saying it had been a reasonably quiet year, with only three members’ wetlands being developed, however work at Wairio Wetland was going well and good progress had been made.

He paid tribute to long-time DU supporter and Wairarapa Chapter Secretary/Treasurer Joyce Brooks who passed away shortly after the previous AGM.

Treasurer John Bishop, after his traditional warm-up joke, presented his report. He confirmed and reviewed the requirements of being a charitable trust, which include providing a mission statement, entity structure and a yearly report of income, expenditure, activities and volunteer support.

The information for the Charities Register notes DU is reliant on volunteers, with about 8000 volunteer hours a year spent on wetlands assessment and building, swan collection, and advice, education, field days, bittern project, supplying magazine content, Wairio planting and education, supporting schools, fundraising, auctions and dinners.

After running through the financials, which show a slight deficit for the year, John concluded:

“We are remain solvent, through support from membership subscriptions, auctions, grants from the Wetland Care Trust, and donations from Treadwells, Pharazyn Trust, Muter Trust, South Wairarapa Rotary and one-off grants.”

Election of Officers

The DU Board remained unchanged, with the two directors whose two-year terms were up, Jim Law and John Dermer, being re-elected unanimously.

Waterfowl and Wetland Trust

David Smith reported that the trust was in good shape thanks to the sharemarket, and despite paying out $40,000 to DU, was in a similar financial position as it was at the end of 2017.

He said the trust was doing exactly what it was set up to do: provide money to enable DU to carry on its work.

Wetland Care

Will Abel said that in line with the previous couple of years, there had been few applications for new projects, with most of the wetland creation activities centred on the Wairio Wetland.

A large wetland in Pahiatua that DU committed $5000 to three years ago had been completed, and in Masterton, DU had helped created another large wetland, to which it contributed $4000.

Royal Swan

Will Abel said it had been a disastrous year for the royal swan, with no cygnets available and even the wildlife centre at Peacock Springs, Canterbury, the usual source of swans, was looking for some new breeding stock.

“We have no idea why really, but anecdotally I suspect it is because it coincides with the 50th anniversary of the moon landing,” he said, tongue in cheek.

“If it improves next year, my supposition will be proved correct, and I will present a paper at the next conference on it.”

He said it was fortunate that there had not been many requests for swans.


Peter Russell reported that the breeding programme had had a good season, with 65 whio reared from captive pairs and 15 reared from wild clutches. A total of 72 were released.

In the North Island, 30 were released. Three older birds from last season were released on the Whakapapanui in December, and 12 birds, six males and six females, were released at Blue Duck Station in January.

The third release, on the Manganui a-te-Ao, was in early March, with eight males released at the Ruatiti Domain and four females released down the river where there was a surplus of males. Three male birds were released on Mangawhero stream on 20 March.

Peter said it was always a great thrill to take part in the releases out on the river. He has been doing them since 1997 and it has changed so much. In 2000 they released seven, compared with 72 in the past year.

In the South Island, 20 birds were released on the West Coast in January in the Wainihinihi, Arahura, Styx and Kawhake rivers; 12 birds were released on the Taipo River in March; in Tasman 10 birds were released.


Paul Mason reported that DU currently had 280 members, with 57 of those unpaid as at the AGM.

He said a second subs reminder would be sent out, following email and postal reminders subsequent to the initial subs mailout.

He noted that in the past three years, payment preferences were moving from cheque to internet banking. Credit card payments remained about the same and PayPal transactions were increasing.

More members were responding to the suggestion that DU communicated with them more by email, he said.


Paul said new articles were added as events occur, with the most recent being the planting day at Wairio Wetland. Flight magazines, from No 155 to the current issue, have been loaded on to the site. Issue 29 has also been scanned and added as a PDF file.

Articles from more recent Flight magazines are being transcribed and loaded as searchable items – so far back to issue 159. Old issues are being scanned and loaded as PDFs.

He noted a drop-off in website visitors in the past three months and in response had upgraded the site-mapping software and re-registered the site with search engines.

The main files being downloaded were Flight magazines and people were also accessing the educational resources files (from Quack Club), he said.

Wairio Wetland

Jim Law reported that the wetland was in good heart, benefiting from continued restoration work, albeit at a more modest cost to DU ($4455 versus $9500 in the prior year). Work focused on more bund wall improvements ($1700), tree planting ($2000) and noxious plant control ($755).

At last, significant progress was made by the Greater Wellington Regional Council to reticulate water from Matthews Lagoon and Boggy Pond to Wairio. Earthworks have been completed but after a “weather event”, remedial work is required. This will be done this summer.

“We had provisionally budgeted to fund a portion of this work but GWRC assumed full responsibility,” he said.

Total expenditure by the Wairio Restoration Committee, not counting volunteer time, since inception 14 years ago, now stands at $220,000.

The Victoria University of Wellington School for Biodiversity and Restoration Ecology remain focused on their research at Stage 3.

The Restoration Committee is still holding funds (lodged with DU) from fundraising efforts totalling $10,807. A further $15,000 grant was recently received by local donors. These funds are also being held by DU on behalf of the project committee.

As mentioned last year, Wairarapa Moana, which includes the Wairio Wetland (administered by DOC on behalf of the Crown), has been included in a Treaty of Waitangi settlement with Wairarapa iwi. “Whilst the settlement has been delayed, the local iwi has assured us that they want us to continue our good work restoring the Wairio Wetland.

“We remain of the view, though perhaps slightly biased, that DU members should be proud of this project,” Jim said.


Jim Law reported on DU’s new initiative offering scholarships to students doing research in a relevant area. A trial offering a total of $25,000 over three years in grants of $5000 per student so far had had little response to date.

Four universities had been approached and it was likely the first recipient of one of the $5000 grants would come from Victoria University working on the Wairio site.





Published in Issue 177
Thursday, 05 September 2019 21:23

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
Tagged under
Tuesday, 27 August 2019 18:17

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 14:35

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
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Monday, 22 July 2019 14:31

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
Tagged under
Monday, 22 July 2019 13:16

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 19:05

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
Tagged under
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
Tagged under
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