At the close of Whio Awareness Month, Element celebrates these unique river birds.
• Population: 2000 – 2500; 640 pairs on the North Island, 700 on the South Island.
• Bill: The black rubbery ‘lip’ on the end of the bill protects the whio’s beak from rough rock edges whilst scavenging for food. It acts like an efficient vacuum cleaner head, funneling bugs into their beak.
• Webbed feet: Whio live in fast-flowing river areas. As soon as chicks are born they can navigate the rocky rapids with the help of enormous, webbed feet. Chicks can fly after about 70 days.
• Call: The name whio means ‘whistle’ in Maori. Male whio have a high-pitched whistle while the female has a rattling, grumbling call.
• Successes: Whio Recovery Group leader Andrew Glaser says that there have been many successes this year in the Whio Recovery breeding programme thanks to stoat-catching traps funded by Genesis energy. In Tongariro, 151 juveniles were raised this year from 48 pairs. In Te Urewera, 17 juveniles survived from just 3 pairs. Threats • Stoats: Stoats are capable of killing the birds at all life stages; stealing eggs, attacking ducklings and killing female ducks whilst they are nest-bound.
• Floods: Whio nests are made in caves, on big piles of logs or under mounds of river vegetation beside rivers, leaving them vulnerable to spring floods.
• Water quality indicators: Maori have used whio as a traditional indicator of water quality for centuries. Whio feed on sensitive insects which thrive in high quality water with low sediment loads.
SEE A WHIO: Your best chance to spy a Whio is to get river-side at dawn and dusk. During the day whio hide in caves and other crannies around the river. To see whio ducklings, go
whio-spotting after August. Check out whioforever.co.nz and click on ‘Find a Whio’ for a map of whio locations.