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What is a Blue Duck?

By Angie Bates
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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The blue duck is a type of waterfowl found in New Zealand. Blue ducks are unique in that they do not appear to be related to any other species of duck and exhibit behaviors atypical of other duck species. The scientific name for the blue duck is Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos.

An endemic species, the blue duck lives exclusively in New Zealand. Averaging 21 inches (53 cm) in length, these ducks are blue-gray with brown chest markings. They have yellow eyes, pink bills, and are not strong fliers.

Blue ducks are territorial, and their river habitats often have swiftly moving currents. Unlike many ducks, the blue duck can maneuver in swift rapids and hold onto large rocks while feeding under water. Their diets consist of invertebrates and caddisfly larvae.

Although blue ducks can breed in their first year, most do not begin breeding until they are two years old. Unusual to most duck species, blue ducks appear to mate for life and males take part in caring for the young. Nesting occurs in August through November, and nests are made in caves or crevices in rocks.

The female lays four to seven eggs, which are incubated for about one month. The young are generally black and white, but have a particular sheen that camouflages them while they swim in the water. They also have large feet, disproportionate to their bodies, to aid them in swimming in the strong river currents. Ducklings stay with parents for about eight to ten weeks, then find their own territories, usually nearby. Blue ducks live for about eight years.

The blue duck has several different common names. In addition to "blue," which refers to its coloring, it is also called a mountain duck or torrent duck, because of its habitat. Another common name is the whistling duck, after the male's whistling call.

As of 2010, the blue duck population was approximately 2,000–4,000, and this species was considered endangered. Habitat destruction is the primary cause for the decline, as evidenced by the ducks disappearance from their former lowland habitats. Additional causes include the introduction of new species, such as stoats, and the need to compete for food with the increased population of trout in New Zealand rivers. In 1997, the New Zealand Department of Conservation instituted a Blue Duck Recovery Plan to attempt to save the species. The program has been marginally successful, and although the population still continues to slowly decline, it is mostly stable.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Blue Duck and where can it be found?

The Blue Duck, also known as Whio, is a rare species of duck endemic to New Zealand. It is found in fast-flowing rivers and streams in forested areas, particularly on the North Island and parts of the South Island. Its distinctive blue-grey plumage and a pale bill with black tips make it easily recognizable.

Why is the Blue Duck considered endangered?

The Blue Duck is classified as endangered due to habitat loss, predation by introduced species, and hydroelectric power development which alters their riverine habitats. According to the Department of Conservation in New Zealand, there are only about 2,500-3,000 individuals left, highlighting the urgency for conservation efforts.

What does the Blue Duck eat and how does it hunt?

The Blue Duck is a specialized feeder, hunting for aquatic invertebrates such as caddisfly larvae, mayfly nymphs, and mollusks. It uses its bill to sift through the substrate in fast-flowing streams, a unique adaptation among ducks, which allows it to thrive in its niche environment.

How does the Blue Duck's habitat contribute to its unique behaviors?

The Blue Duck's habitat in fast-flowing rivers contributes to its strong swimming ability and specialized feeding habits. The turbulent waters provide a rich source of food but require the duck to be an adept navigator, which has led to its streamlined body and powerful legs for swimming against currents.

What conservation efforts are in place to protect the Blue Duck?

Conservation efforts for the Blue Duck include predator control programs, habitat restoration, and advocacy for river protection. The New Zealand government and various conservation organizations are actively involved in breeding programs and community education to raise awareness and support for the species' survival.

Can the Blue Duck be seen in captivity, and does this aid in its conservation?

Yes, the Blue Duck can be seen in captivity at certain conservation centers and zoos in New Zealand. Captive breeding programs play a crucial role in conservation by bolstering the wild population and providing opportunities for research and education about this unique species.

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