At the close of Whio Aware­ness Month, El­e­ment cel­e­brates th­ese unique river birds.

Element - - LIFESTYLE - Photo: Phil Brown philbrown­pho­tog­ra­phy.co.nz Story: So­phie Bar­clay

• 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.

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