A special duck face.  

Meet our whistling whio! Whio are a threatened endemic species found only in New Zealand wetlands. Yet, the whio is maybe the most commonly seen duck in New Zealand without you even realizing it!

You could even have a whio in your pocket! Have you looked at New Zealand's $10 note lately? The ducks featured are whio. 

As far as duck faces go, the whio is pretty special.

They have soft rubbery ‘lips’ on the end of their bill which allows the whio to scrape insect larvae off rocks while protecting its bill from damage. It is the only duck to have this adaptation!  

Whio, along with all duck species, have some other pretty neat adaptations. Whio have large, webbed feet that they can fold up like an umbrella to help stop drag in the fast-flowing rivers they live in.  Their body is streamlined to help water flow over it so they can effectively swim and dive. Whio also have different types of feathers, each with specific qualities. As whio live in very cold water, the insulating and waterproofing properties of their feathers are very important.

At the Zoo 

Our whio live in the High Country habitat in Te Wao Nui. They share this habitat with some other special birds, including takahē and bellbirds. Make sure you take your time when you look for our whio, their blue/grey feathers make them look a little like a boulder! Check out the fast-flowing stream from the viewing area. But also, look into the aviary from the bridge outside, you may spot one amongst the boulders surrounding the pond.  

Crazy for mealworms 

In the wild, whio feed almost entirely on aquatic invertebrates, mostly caddisfly larvae. At the zoo, they eat a specially formulated pellet to provide all their essential nutrients, supplemented with a range of insects like mealworms and crickets.  

Life in the fast lane 

Whio are found in fast-flowing rivers, so at the zoo they have a turbulent, rapidly flowing ‘alpine’ stream, lined with smooth river stones, that widens into a calmer pool. Natural vegetation is provided for shelter, as well as cozy nest boxes in the breeding season. Whio are very territorial and will defend their home turf, so we don’t have more than one breeding pair together.  


Meet these charismatic ducks

Find out how we're working with DOC and Genesis Energy to ensure whio are in our future forever.

In the wild 

Origin: North and South Islands, New Zealand  

Habitat: They were once widespread throughout New Zealand. Today they are limited to the less modified catchments of the Urewera, East Cape and central areas of the North Island, and along the West Coast of the South Island from Nelson to Fiordland. They live in clean, fast-flowing streams and rivers. Whio are actually a key indicator of healthy rivers and streams as they only live on clean fast-flowing streams and waterways which support sufficient invertebrates for food - so where you find whio, you can be sure the river is healthy.

Conservation status: Endangered

How are we helping 

For many New Zealand endangered bird species predator-free off-shore islands can be a safe-haven and are a valuable conservation management tool. Unfortunately, whio cannot simply be transferred to islands as they rely on fast-flowing rivers which don’t exist on islands. Auckland Zoo is part of a nationwide breed and release programme. Our ducklings are sent to a Department of Conservation duckling ‘boot camp’ in Turangi where all the North Island blue ducklings are flocked together to build up their muscles before being released to the wild. With fewer than 3,000 whio left in the wild, every single duckling counts!