Staff Spotlight: Alice Hales, whio crèche volunteer

Department of Conservation —  25/03/2019

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs and personalities of the people who work at DOC. Today we’re profiling Alice Hales, a whio crèche volunteer based at Tongariro National Trout Centre.

Some things I do in my job include…

Holding Christmas

Holding Christmas at her release at Blue Duck Station. 📷: DOC

My job was based at the Tongariro National Trout Centre in Turangi where there is a hardening facility for captive bred whio. Whio, or blue duck, are an endangered endemic torrent duck in New Zealand; this facility allows juveniles to experience the conditions they will face in the wild prior to their release. The success rate of captive bred whio has risen dramatically since introducing this duck “boot camp”, complete with rapids, rocks and flying space.

Every morning the whio in the aviaries need tending to and observing for any signs of illness, bullying or changes in behaviour. Getting to work with the blue ducks so closely on a daily basis allows you to learn the personalities and habits of each individual. Birds in general often show only very slight indications if they are unhappy or unwell, this is easier to pick up on when you spend so much time with them.

Duck in single aviary

A whio enjoying the sun. 📷: DOC

The aviaries are completely washed down and scrubbed at least once a day to remove the faeces and prevent disease build up. To avoid contamination, specific gumboots are worn inside the aviary and disinfected once a week (by far the worst part of this job was finding the spider families at the bottom of your boot!). The ducks are fed on teal pellets, complete with all the nutrients they need. To encourage them to forage and find live food, meal worms or cicadas are fed to them among the rocks and in the water – a very entertaining experience watching them all rush in and dive around.

Every 10 days all of the whio get a routine health check. So after rounding up all the birds we check their eyes, bill and feet for any abnormalities. This was by far the most incredible part, being able to handle the birds and examine their features so closely. Not many people can say they’ve had such hands-on experience with endangered animals.

First release

First release of three adult whio near Chateau Tongariro. 📷: DOC

Getting to be a part of releasing these whio into the wild was an unreal experience. Knowing that they’re living in and around the rivers where they’re supposed to be is a proud moment for all involved. Without the stoat trapping, hardening facilities and captive breeders the whio would be declining at a rapid rate; being able to release healthy, strong juveniles helps the species immensely.

This role also offered the opportunity to educate the public. Being in the aviaries everyday meant a lot of people asking questions and wanting to know more about these birds and why we do what we do, which was really cool to see.


The best bit about my job is…

Spending time with endangered species; knowing that you’ve played a small part in helping to repopulate areas with these amazing birds. Releasing them into the wild is such an honour and a hugely proud moment as a volunteer duck-mum.

Getting to live on sight at the Trout Centre was also a great experience. Being so close to where you work every day as well as the river and walking tracks was such a great lifestyle.

This role has given me so many opportunities to make contacts, learn and experience new things that will be invaluable in the future.

First ducks into aviary

Releasing the first clutch of whio into the aviaries. 📷: DOC


The loveliest moment I’ve had so far is…

One of the joys of looking after these creatures is getting to know them. Each and every one has a different personality and relationship with the rest of the ducks.

With two aviaries full of up to 12 whio during the time I was there, it can get confusing to talk about individuals. So, most of them slowly gained unofficial names due to habits or leg band colours. I was very fond of a duck called Christmas, a small, sweet female in the first clutch I looked after with a green and red band.

Christmas's release

Christmas on her release day at Blue Duck Station. 📷: DOC

I’m inspired by…

All of those who work at DOC or for other conservation organisations inspire me greatly, dedicating so much of their time and energy into such worthy causes. Conserving the precious flora and fauna of New Zealand is a huge job and an ongoing work in progress, but without DOC so much would already be lost. The people who are involved in this field are so passionate and driven to create a brighter future for the treasures of this country and I admire that.

Duck by rapids

Whio in the single aviary. 📷: DOC

On a personal note…

My happy place is…

Anywhere with my family or around nature. Especially at home in Taranaki.

My best ever holiday was…

Going to Calgary in Canada and getting to see the rocky mountains up close.

The thing I’m most looking forward to in the next 6 months is…

Starting my Master’s degree in Conservation Biology at Victoria University in Wellington.

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be…

Being a wild whio would be cool, getting to live in and around some of new Zealand’s cleanest rivers and having the ability to fly.

If I wasn’t working at DOC, I’d like to…

Be working with wildlife one way or another. Potentially in a zoo or a park area.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is…

Participate! Every action no matter the size is a step in the right direction.

DOC and Genesis partner in the Whio Forever Project which aims to increase breeding pairs of these rare native ducks on rivers throughout New Zealand. The Whio Crèche was built with the support of Genesis and supplies rivers around the north island with juvenile whio to boost populations and kickstart breeding.

2 responses to Staff Spotlight: Alice Hales, whio crèche volunteer


    Possibly my favourite of all ducks. We, as you may know successfully hatch them here at Hamilton zoo and then Doc takes over. thanks for telling us what happens next. That is great.


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