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The national symbol of New Zealand, the flightless kiwi is one of the most unique birds in the world.
Evolving in the absence of most large predators, kiwis occupy a similar ecological niche to many land mammals elsewhere, and kiwi anatomy reflects this fact. Like many mammals, their bones are filled with marrow. They rely on their senses of touch and smell. Their soft feathers feel a lot like fur. However, despite extensive conservation efforts, the animal is still at risk of extinction.
Fantastic Birds: 4 Facts About Kiwis!
- Kiwi first evolved about 30 million years ago, making it one of the oldest living birds.
- Kiwis have a lower body temperature than any known bird.
- One of the more amazing facts is that kiwis have a highly developed sense of smell. It is the only bird in the world whose nostrils are at the tip of the beak. If the nostrils are full of dust, the kiwi will sneeze on purpose to clear the obstruction.
- Female kiwis are one of the few birds that have a pair of functioning ovaries. Most birds have only one ovary.
History and Evolution
About 50 million years ago, the kiwi came to New Zealand, where they have remained to this day and, like other species that ended up living on isolated islands, evolved into a very interesting animal!
At some point in their evolution, kiwis adapted to be nocturnal. This may be due to competition from moas during the day, which also cannot fly and can only find food on the ground. Working at night, the kiwi survives. Similar to mammals that evolved to be nocturnal, kiwis have an increased sense of smell in their beaks to help them forage on the forest floor.
where to find them
This forest-dwelling bird prefers steep wetlands surrounded by tall shrubs or trees. It was once common in mainland New Zealand, but many species have been relocated to the small outer islands.
the bird's nest
These birds do not build nests at all. Instead, it uses its sharp claws to burrow underground.
Types of kiwi
- Tokoeka (Apteryx australis) – Also known as the southern brown kiwi, the Tokoeka Kiwi is the largest of these birds. They are dark brown with stripes on their plumage. Their legs are short and their mouths are long.
- Brown kiwifruit (Apteryx mantelli) – The brown kiwifruit is one of the most common kiwifruits in New Zealand. They can be found on the North Island of New Zealand, especially in lowland and coastal forests and subalpine regions.
- Rowi (Apteryx rowi) – The Rowi Kiwi is the least common and rarest kiwifruit. It is estimated that there are fewer than 500 left in the wild. They can be found on the islands of the Marlborough Sounds.
- Little-spotted kiwi (Apteryx owenii) – Aptly named, the little-spotted kiwi is the smallest of these birds. Although they were formerly the most common kiwi, they are the only birds extinct in mainland New Zealand. They have been living in protected areas on the mainland and in the wild on several other islands because of conservation efforts.
- Great Spotted Kiwi / Roroa (Apteryx haastii) – The largest kiwi, the Great Spotted Kiwi, lives on the north side of the South Island. This particular subspecies inhabits higher altitudes than other kiwi birds. Their population is estimated at 14,000.
The scientific name of the kiwi is Apteryx. This is of Greek origin and means "without wings". The suffix "a" means absent and "pterux" means winged. There are five known species, all of which have the same general appearance and behavior, but which differ in subtle ways. The kiwi is an example of a ratite: a diverse and distantly related flightless bird that also includes emus, cassowaries and ostriches. Kiwis, however, are the only living members of their order (scientific name Apterygiformes).
Size, Appearance and Behavior
These birds are unusual looking, with rounded bodies, elongated beaks, strong feet, highly reduced wings ending in claws, and tiny beard-like feathers on their faces, brown or gray feathers almost like fur. The largest species is the brown kiwi, which stands 25 inches tall and weighs 11 pounds, about the size of a domestic chicken. Males are slightly larger than females but are similar in appearance.
While they do sometimes travel with other members of the same species, the kiwi is a very territorial bird that clings to its territory and does not tolerate easy trespassers. If another bird doesn't heed its warning call and stays away, it may attack with its feet. The bird communicates through a series of sounds such as screeches, clicks, and rising and falling whistles. During the day, the bird curls up and sleeps in its burrow. At night, the bird sticks its head out to sniff the air for predators. If the shore is clear, then it will come out and start feeding.
Kiwis forage between dusk and dawn. With its strong scent, kiwis spot prey and then use the highly developed sensory pads on their beaks to catch the food.
what do they eat
The bird feeds on worms, grubs, berries and seeds.
Predators, threats and conservation status
For millions of years, kiwis have faced little threat in the wild. But the arrival of the first humans on the island centuries ago marked the beginning of the kiwi's decline. This accelerated with the arrival of Europeans, who cleared large areas of forest habitat and introduced cats, weasels, stoats and ferrets to the island. As kiwis were unable to cope with new mammal threats, numbers began to decline rapidly. Today, four out of five kiwifruit species are endangered. Only the lesser-spotted kiwi is nearly threatened.
what to eat
Before the arrival of humans, kiwis were only preyed upon by the now-extinct laughing owl. But once carnivorous mammals influx the island, they prey on vulnerable kiwi chicks in large numbers and sometimes even adults.
Indigenous Maori have a more sacred relationship with New Zealanders. They respect them, believing they are protected by one of their gods, but they do eat the birds and use their feathers for ceremonial cloaks called kahu kiwi. Maori no longer hunted birds, but collected the feathers of dead birds.
Reproduction, Babies and Longevity
Every year from March to June, kiwis perform a unique mating ritual. After calling each other, the pair meet every three days in the nesting burrow, and when mating, the male makes a distinctive grunt. Kiwis form close breeding pairs and usually mate for life unless a more desirable mate happens to arise.
One of the most amazing facts is that kiwis lay the largest eggs of any bird. Although a kiwi is about the size of a chicken, an egg is about six times the size. The large size means that kiwis can only lay one egg at a time, but the female may still lay a second egg several weeks later before the first one hatches. The males incubate the eggs themselves.
When the chicks kick out of the egg, they are fully independent and fully feathered. Because parents play a minor role in feeding their offspring, chicks must spend the first 10 days of their lives feeding on a yolk sac. The eggs are also antibacterial and antifungal in response to the damp underground burrows. While these birds are quick to forage on their own, some may choose to stay with their parents and help them raise their offspring.
These birds have a difficult early life. About 90 percent of wild kiwi die within the first six months of life, most from predator attacks. Young kiwis have a much higher chance of survival when an area is free of pests. Males reach sexual maturity quickly at around 14 to 18 months, while females take a relatively longer two to three years. If they survive puberty, the birds can live up to 50 years in the wild and about 30 years in captivity.
Kiwi populations have fallen sharply since their peak and are still declining across much of New Zealand despite conservationists devoting enormous resources to restoring numbers. One success story is the small spotted kiwifruit. The species is estimated to have fallen to a low of just five individuals in the early 20th century. Since relocation to the kiwi sanctuary on Kapiti Island, the population has rebounded to more than 1,200 adults. The other species have more than 10,000 mature individuals left in the wild, but their numbers are declining slightly every year.
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about the author
Heather Ross is a middle school English teacher and mother of 2 people, 2 tuxedo cats and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading homework, she loves reading and writing about all things animals!
Kiwi FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are kiwis herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?
Kiwis are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and other animals.
To which kingdom do New Zealanders belong?
Kiwi belongs to the animal kingdom.
What phylum does the kiwi belong to?
Kiwifruit belongs to the phylum Chordate.
What class do New Zealanders belong to?
Kiwi fruit belongs to the class of birds.
What family do New Zealanders belong to?
Kiwis belong to the pterosaur family.
What class do New Zealanders belong to?
Actinidia belong to the order Struthioniformes.
What genus does kiwi belong to?
Kiwis belong to the genus of wingless birds.
What types of coverings do New Zealanders have?
The whole body of kiwi is covered with feathers.
What type of habitat do New Zealanders live in?
New Zealanders live in forests and dense woodlands.
What is the main prey of kiwifruit?
New Zealanders eat worms, spiders, insects and fruit.
Who are the natural enemies of kiwifruit?
Predators of New Zealanders include foxes, dogs and cats.
What are the distinctive features of New Zealanders?
Kiwis have a round body and a long, pointed, straight beak.
Do kiwis migrate?
No, kiwifruit stays in a tight range most of the year.
How many eggs does a kiwi lay?
Kiwis lay one to two eggs per clutch, with a maximum of three clutches per year.
How fast do kiwis fly?
The kiwi cannot fly, but it can run on the ground at speeds of up to 12 miles per hour.
What is the wingspan of a kiwi?
The kiwi's wings are short and stunted and not of much use. Each is only an inch long.
When do kiwi chicks leave the nest?
Kiwi chicks are ready to leave the nest almost from the moment they are born.
What is a kiwi?
Kiwis are medium-sized flightless birds that roam the forests of New Zealand. It has very small wings and a very long lifespan.
What does a kiwi look like?
Kiwis have a rather plump, rounded body with a large "whisker" around the face, strong paws and a long, thin beak.
How big is a kiwi?
The kiwi is the smallest of the flightless ratites (like the ostrich), but it is still relatively large compared to most other birds. The smallest species is the lesser-spotted kiwi, which is between 14 and 18 inches tall. The largest species is the brown kiwi, which is between 20 and 25 inches tall.
Where do kiwis live?
Kiwis live in New Zealand.
Are Kiwi Birds Dangerous?
Kiwis are not dangerous. This rather shy bird would rather run away from people than confront them directly.
What are some interesting facts about New Zealanders?
Kiwis are only found in the forests of New Zealand!
How long do kiwis live?
New Zealanders can live 8 to 12 years.
How do New Zealanders have babies?
Kiwis lay eggs.
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- San Diego Zoo, available here: https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/kiwi
- New Zealand, available here: https://www.newzealand.com/us/feature/five-surprising-kiwi-facts/