The Whio is endemic to New Zealand, and one of only four ducks species in the world that lives in fast flowing water.
The challenging environment it lives in – fast flowing rivers – gives it several unique physical features:
- They have webbed feet that collapse like a folded umbrella to create less drag, allowing the ducks to pull themselves forward through fast water
- They have a special soft lip on the end of their bill which acts like a head on a vacuum cleaner, allowing them to scrape off insect larvae that clings to rocks
- They can defend territories up to 1km long on the river and are with the same partner right throughout the year – some even mate for life
Whio are also indicators of a river’s health and so if they are present the river or stream is considered to be in a very healthy state.
Unfortunately the loss of habitat through changing land and water use has been a major threat to Whio over the years. They nest in burrows and caves along the river bank which makes them highly vulnerable to flooding. However, their biggest threat is predators, for example stoats, rats and cats.