Hymenolaimus malacorhynchosblue duck

Geographic Range

Blue ducks (also called whistling ducks or whios) are only found in New Zealand. They were once widespread throughout the North and South Islands and appears to have occupied more diverse habitats than today (Worthy & Holdaway, 1994). Blue ducks are now restricted to upland forested catchments in eastern and central North Island and the west coast of South Island. There are no fossil records from the Chatham Islands, Stewart or Great Barrier Islands, or other, smaller islands. Although the initial impact of human settlement and the arrival of terrestrial mammals on blue ducks remains speculative, a significant decline in the number of blue ducks has occurred in the past 150 years. Remaining populations have suffered from fragmentation and habitat degradation and remain in isolated areas where rivers are not as disturbed. One of the largest North Island populations is found on Manganuiateao River. ("Blue Duck (Whio), Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos Recovery Plan", 1997; Worthy and Holdaway, 1994)


Blue ducks spends their entire life on rivers or streams generally in mountainous regions. Although they are likely to be restricted to these more marginal habitats because of the destruction and fragmentation of intact riverine habitats elsewhere. Their habitat has been affected negatively by riverside and agricultural development. River sections in which blue ducks are found today are generally free from sediment, have native scrub and woodland vegetation along their banks, and have a wide variety and abundance of aquatic invertebrates. They prefer stream and river banks with steep slopes, dense vegetation, and overhanging branches over the river. (Collier and Lyon, 1991)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

Blue ducks are relatively small ducks. As their name suggests, blue ducks have dusky blue-grey plumage with chestnut markings on the chest. Their coloration makes them camouflaged on the blue-gray rocks of their native New Zealand river banks. Adult blue duck bills are light pink and the eyes are yellow. Juveniles have a grey bill and gray eyes. They are about 53 cm long and males are slightly larger than females, averaging 1000 g to the average female weight of 800 g. ("Blue Duck (Whio), Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos Recovery Plan", 1997; "Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos", 2008)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Average mass
    800-1000 g
  • Average length
    53 cm
    20.87 in


The blue duck mating system is unlike that of many other ducks in that both males and females stay and help raise the brood each year. This is unlike most ducks, where the male will usually leave the female to incubate and raise the young. It is also believed that blue ducks remain paired for life and defend the same territory in their August through November nesting period. Pairs defend small territories of 0.7 to 1 km along a river. ("Blue Duck (Whio), Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos Recovery Plan", 1997; "Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos", 2008)

Most males will not breed until their second year while most females mate at one year old and produce one clutch a year. Females can produce anywhere from 4 to 7 white eggs each year. Each egg weighs about 10% of female body weight or about 70 g. Females commonly make their nests in dense vegetation along streambanks; usually in small riverside caves or under the cover of flax and grass. While the female incubates for about a month, the male is usually in close proximity to help protect the nest site. Ducklings hatch with disproportionately large feet, which helps them battle swift currents to feed themselves. Hatchlings are primarily black and white with a dark green sheen, which makes them difficult to see against the surface of the water. Both males and females continue to guard the young for 8 to 10 weeks after hatching or until they disperse. Blue duck juveniles are reluctant to disperse from their birth territory. Other aspects of their breeding behavior are not reported in the literature. ("Blue Duck (Whio), Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos Recovery Plan", 1997; "Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos", 2008)

  • Breeding interval
    Blue ducks breed once a year.
  • Range eggs per season
    4 to 7
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

Male and female blue ducks care for and protect their young. Females incubate the eggs while males protect the nesting territory. Both parents help to protect and feed their hatchlings. ("Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos", 2008)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


Most blue ducks live to about 8 years, although living to 10 years is not uncommon. ("Blue Duck (Whio), Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos Recovery Plan", 1997)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    10 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    8 years


Blue ducks are most active at dawn and dusk. Populations do not migrate, with territorial mated pairs defending small sections of river during the breeding season. ("Blue Duck (Whio), Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos Recovery Plan", 1997; "Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos", 2008)

Home Range

Mated pairs defend small territories of 0.7 to 1 km along a river.

Communication and Perception

Females give a drawn out “craak.” Males give a husky whistle, from which the name “whio” comes. This is also why these ducks are referred to as whistling ducks. ("Blue Duck (Whio), Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos Recovery Plan", 1997; "Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos", 2008)

Food Habits

Blue ducks feed entirely on freshwater invertebrates, mostly caddisfly larvae (Trichoptera), but also stonefly (Plecoptera) and mayfly (Ephemeroptera) nymphs, snails (Gastropoda), and midges (Chironomidae). Some South Island birds were found eating fruits of streamside plants. Their preference for invertebrates puts them in direct competition with trout species that have been introduced into New Zealand streams and are one of the many factors contributing to their endangered status. ("Blue Duck (Whio), Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos Recovery Plan", 1997)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


Blue ducks are heavily preyed on by introduced mammals, which have contributed significantly to population declines. Introduced predators include rats (Rattus), feral cats (Felis catus), feral dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), stoats (Mustela erminea), ferrets (Mustela putorius), and least weasels (Mustela nivalis). Native predators of eggs include brush-tailed possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) and wekas (Gallirallus australis). Hatchlings can also be taken by gulls (Larus), hawks (Accipitridae), eels (Anguillidae), shags (Phalacrocorax), and falcons (Falco), which also take adults. Blue ducks tend to be camouflaged in their stream and streamside habitats. ("Blue Duck (Whio), Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos Recovery Plan", 1997; "Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos", 2008)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Blue ducks are important predators of aquatic insects in their native, riverine habitats. ("Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos", 2008)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Blue ducks are attractive and interesting members of native New Zealand ecosystems, attracting birdwatchers and other wildlife enthusiasts.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of blue ducks on humans.

Conservation Status

Blue duck populations have experienced significant populations declines are most directly impacted by four threats; habitat loss and disturbance, competition with non-native trout (Salmonidae), predation, especially by non-native mammals, and population fragmentation. Hydroelectric dams and human recreational activity on rivers also disturbs blue duck populations. The diversity of threats affecting blue duck populations makes it imperative that conservation efforts are employed. In 1988 the Blue Duck Conservation Strategy was put into effect and was active until 1992. This conservation effort resulted in increased knowledge was obtained about blue duck distribution, demography, ecology and population on various rivers. Knowledge about the techniques used for re-establishment was increased through translocation efforts and public awareness was increased. Since then, The Department of Conservation Blue Duck Recovery Plan was approved in 1997 and is currently active. This plan also has the long term goal of maintaining blue duck populations in the wild in secure river catchments. Populations are estimated at about 1200 individuals and sex ratios are skewed towards males. South Island populations are most threatened. Captive breeding and reintroduction efforts are underway, with the goal of creating 5 viable populations in areas where non-native predators are being controlled. ("Blue Duck (Whio), Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos Recovery Plan", 1997; "Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos", 2008)


Kalen Pokley (author), Northern Michigan University, Alec R. Lindsay (editor, instructor), Northern Michigan University, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Department of Conservation Biodiversity Recovery Unit. Blue Duck (Whio), Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos Recovery Plan. TSRP 22. New Zealand: New Zealand Department of Conservation. 1997. Accessed April 02, 2009 at http://www.doc.govt.nz/upload/documents/science-and-technical/TSRP22.pdf.

2008. "Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos" (On-line). Blue duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos). Accessed July 15, 2008 at http://www.arkive.org/species/GES/birds/Hymenolaimus_malacorhynchos/more_info.html?section=all.

2005. "Whio, the blue duck" (On-line). Accessed April 02, 2008 at http://www.nzbirds.com/birds/whio.html.

Collier, K., G. Lyon. 1991. Trophic pathways and diet of blue duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos ) on Manganuiateao River: A stable carbon isotope study.. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 25: 181-186.

Triggs, S., M. Williams, S. Marshal, G. Chambers. 1992. Genetic Structure of Blue Duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) Populations Revealed by DNA Fingerprinting. The Auk, 109: 80-89.

Williams, M. 2009. "Blue duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos)" (On-line). BirdLife International. Accessed July 14, 2009 at http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=422&m=0.

Worthy, T., R. Holdaway. 1994. Quaternary fossil faunas from caves in Takaka Valley and on. Journal Royal Society of NZ, 24: 297-391.