Captive blue ducks ready for release

Last updated 12:00 13/03/2014
READY FOR RELEASE: One of 16 juvenile whio set to be released into the wild.

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An Air New Zealand flight to Palmerston North included some precious cargo yesterday - boxes containing 16 juvenile whio ready for release into the wild.

The birds, also known as blue ducks, spent last night at the Esplanade Aviary in the city ahead of a journey up to Mt Taranaki today, where they would be released.

Aviary keeper Peter Russell said 16 was the highest number of whio he'd had come into his care, a reflection of a successful breeding season.

"Thirty-three captive birds have been bred this summer," Mr Russell said. "It's been the best season in the wild that we've had as well."

Six birds were released on Tuesday in Tongariro National Park.

A further 13 are to be released next week on the Manganui o te Ao River, in an area protected by the Kia Wharite biodiversity project, to which Horizons Regional Council is a partner.

Two of the birds being released today had been brought in from Mt Taranaki and reared in captivity, Mr Russell said. The others were born in locations such as Mt Bruce near Eketahuna and Peacock Springs in Christchurch.

National Whio Recovery Group leader Andrew Glaser said all of the birds had been "hardened" at Peacock Springs - a process where they are introduced to fast-flowing water.

The birds live in mountain streams and exposing them to simulated rivers before their release into the wild helped improve their chances of survival.

A hardening facility was planned at the National Trout Centre in Turangi, which would mean less travel for North Island-born birds, he said.

Yesterday, each bird had a microchip inserted so they could be identified if they were found again in the wild.

Through the work of recovery group members there were, before today's release, more than 100 adult whio birds on Mt Taranaki. That included about 30 adult pairs.

There are fewer than 2500 whio in New Zealand, with the species classed as threatened.

"To me they're intrinsically what we as New Zealanders should be looking after," he said.

Frustratingly for Mr Russell, the whio pair that live permanently at the aviary did not produce offspring this summer.

The pair produced three eggs of which one was fertile but did not hatch.

While they're not yet adding to the population, the birds did give people a chance to see whio up close, Mr Russell said.

This was harder to do in the wild, even if you knew where to look, he said.

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Each new release of birds into the wild makes that a little easier.

- Manawatu Standard

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