|Blue duck at Staglands, Akatarawa Valley|
G.R. Gray, 1843
The blue duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) is a member of the duck, goose and swan family Anatidae endemic to New Zealand. It is the only member of the genus Hymenolaimus, placed in the shelduck subfamily Tadorninae after previously being considered part of the paraphyletic "perching duck" assemblage. The Māori name, sometimes used in English, is whio (pronounced "fee-oh"), which is an onomatopoetic rendition of the males' call.
The blue duck is depicted on the reverse side of the New Zealand $10 banknote.
The blue duck is a dark slate-grey with a chestnut-flecked breast and a paler bill and eye. The pinkish-white bill has fleshy flaps of skin hanging from the sides of its tip. The male's call is an aspirated whistle, and the female's is a rattling growl. The blue duck hatches with a green beak for just 8 hours after hatching; after which it then develops its final colour.
The blue duck is unlike any other duck. It is the only member of its genus and has no close relatives. First described by Gmelin in 1789. Its taxonomic relationships with other waterfowl species are uncertain; DNA analysis has placed it as a sister to the South American dabbling ducks (Anatini), but with no close relative. The blue duck was formerly thought to be related to the shelduck tribe.
Although the North Island and South Island whio are genetically distinct, they are not described as sub-species; they are, however, treated as separate management units.
This species is an endemic resident breeder in New Zealand, nesting in hollow logs, small caves and other sheltered spots. It is a rare duck, holding territories on fast flowing mountain rivers. It is a powerful swimmer even in strong currents, but is reluctant to fly. It is difficult to find, but not particularly wary when located.
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 four to seven eggs is undertaken by the female while the male stands guard. Nests are shallow, twig, grass and down-lined scrapes in caves, under river-side vegetation or in log-jams, 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.
Captive North Island whio are held and bred on both main islands of New Zealand, but the progeny are returned to their respective island. South Island whio are held and bred in captivity on the South Island only. All captives are kept by approved and permitted zoological and wildlife facilities as part of the national recovery plan. As part of this current ten-year plan (2009-2019) is the WHIONE program which works with specially trained nose dogs to locate nests. The eggs removed and ducklings hatched and raised in captivity. Later they are conditioned for coordinated release.
Blue ducks were presented to the International Waterfowl Association in the UK in the 1970s along with New Zealand shovelers, New Zealand scaup, and pāteke by The Wildlife Service of New Zealand. The species were maintained in the UK until at least 2012 before dying out. They have not been known to be exported and maintained anywhere else internationally.
The blue duck is a very localised species now threatened by predation from introduced mammals such as stoats, competition for its invertebrate food with introduced trout, and damming of mountain rivers for hydroelectric schemes. 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.
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.
- BirdLife International (2013). "Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Madge, Steve; Burn, Hilary (1987). Wildfowl: an identification guide to the ducks, geese and swans of the world. London: Christopher Helm. ISBN 0-7470-2201-1.
- Livezey, Bradley C. (1986). "A phylogenetic analysis of recent anseriform genera using morphological characters" (PDF). Auk. 103 (4): 737–754.
- UK Natural History Museum http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/species-of-the-day/biodiversity/loss-of-habitat/hymenolaimus-malacorhynchos/taxonomy/index.html
- Kear 2005; Ducks, geese and swans. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Robertson, B.C.; Paley, R.; Gemmell, N.J. 2002: Broad scale genetic population structure in the New Zealand blue duck Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos, as inferred from mitochondrial genetic variation: a pilot study Christchurch, New Zealand. University of Canterbury, Christchurch
- WWT "Ducky companion saves blue Jerry from a lonely life" 03/2012, http://www.wwt.org.uk/news/all-news/2012/03/wwt-arundel-news/ducky-companion-saves-blue-jerry-from-a-lonely-life/
- Glaser, Andrew; Andrew, Paul; Elliott, Graeme; Edge, Kerri-Anne (December 2010). Whio/blue duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) recovery plan 2009–2019 (PDF). Threatened Species Recovery Plan 62. Wellington, N.Z.: Department of Conservation. ISBN 978-0-478-14841-1.
- Adams, J.; Cunningham, D.; Molloy, J.; Phillipson, S. (1997). "Blue duck (Whio) Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos recovery plan 1997–2007" (PDF). Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Conservation. Retrieved 7 November 2007.
- Whitehead, A.; Edge, K.; Smart, A.; Hill, G.; Willans, M. (2008). "Large scale predator control improves the productivity of a rare New Zealand riverine duck". Biological Conservation. 141: 2784–2794. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2008.08.013.
- Whitehead, A.; Elliott, G.; McIntosh, A. (2010). "Large-scale predator control increases population viability of a rare New Zealand riverine duck". Austral Ecology. 35: 722–730. doi:10.1111/j.1442-9993.2009.02079.x.
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