New Zealand is home to a wide variety of water birds, including several species of ducks. Duck species may be native, endemic, vagrant or introduced.
Different native duck species are adapted to particular habitats in New Zealand and co-existed by taking advantage of different ecological niches.
Ducks belong to a wider family of birds called waterfowl (Anatidae) that also includes swans and geese. The waterfowl family has had more extinctions than any other family of birds in New Zealand.
Native ducks at risk
At least seven native New Zealand duck species have become extinct, and several are endangered. The main reasons for this are the alteration of natural habitats and freshwater ecosystems, such as the removal of native forest cover protecting watery habitats, draining wetlands and the introduction of predators. This has resulted in a significant reduction of habitat for many duck species.
Two of the rarest duck species in the world are endemic to New Zealand – the whio (blue duck) and the pāteke (brown teal). These two species are struggling for survival and are on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list of threatened species, along with the Auckland Island teal and Campbell Island teal.
In New Zealand, we also have a system for assessing and classifying wildlife regarding their conservation status. This system is called the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS) and is summarised in the chart below. More detail can be found in the Science Learning Hub article Conservation rankings.
There are several duck species that have been deliberately introduced into New Zealand. Some of these species, such as mallard ducks, were introduced during the late 1800s and early 20th century by a national network of acclimatisation societies. Mallards adapted very well to the increase in pasture and clear land that occurred as a result of settlement, and wild populations are now very well established. Other ducks, such as the Muscovy duck, were introduced for domestic purposes and, in some places, have established non-permanent populations in the wild.
Although the conservation status of many of our native ducks is alarming, there are several initiatives under way to focus on restoring population numbers. The main focus for New Zealand species recovery programmes is to address the issues of habitat loss and predation. These are the main factors leading to extinction and endangerment of our native ducks.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) has a whio/blue duck recovery plan that includes working in partnership with other groups, captive breeding programmes at whio recovery sites and the development of a range of educational resources about whio. For example, the Whio Forever programme was conceived and implemented in partnership between the Department of Conservation and Genesis Energy.
DOC also has a brown teal/pāteke recovery plan that includes support for initiatives such as the Fiordland Conservation Trust. As with whio, efforts are largely centered on ‘captive to wild’ and predator control programmes, and several populations are now considered stable.
The endemic grey duck (pārera) is actually more endangered than either whio or pāteke, but conservation efforts are difficult. It is very hard to distinguish grey ducks from mallards, which are an introduced duck that has interbred extensively with the grey duck. As a result, there are many more grey duck/mallard hybrids now than pure grey ducks, making them very hard to identify. As a result, the grey duck is not a protected species despite its critically endangered conservation status and is actually still on the New Zealand game bird list.
Schools can play an important role in native species conservation by raising awareness about conservation issues and taking action to protect and enhance local natural habitats.
Nature of science
Conservation education is an example of teaching and learning within the Nature of Science Participating and Contributing strand, where students are asked to explore socio-scientific issues and use evidence-based conclusions to identify, plan and take appropriate action. This aspect is underpinned by understanding how science is utilised by society and how informed action contributes to a wider set of outcomes.
Find out more
Examples of related articles on the Science Learning Hub include Introducing New Zealand ducks, Fantastic whio feathers, Conserving native birds – introduction and Conserving native birds – writer’s insight. There are also several teacher PLD sessions related to this topic: Diving into inquiry with whio, Why learn about whio?, Inquiry outside the classroom, Taking action for conservation, Bird conservation and literacy and SLH and conservation.
Some activities on the Science Learning Hub you may wish to explore include Ethics in bird conservation, Eliciting prior knowledge, Whio feathers – what are they for?, Which duck is which?, Mixing and matching ducks, Duck dominoes and Ethics in conservation science.
For more detailed information about New Zealand ducks and bird conservation you may want to visit Which duck is which?, New Zealand Birds Online, New Zealand Birds, New Zealand’s threatened birds or 10,000 Birds. Other example of DOC working in conservation partnerships is at Blue Duck Station in the central North Island. More information about brown teal recovery efforts can be found at www.brownteal.com, and the Pāteke survival guide is also a useful resource for further reading.