How much do you know about New Zealand’s national bird?

Although iconic, the kiwi is a mysterious creature. As a shy, nocturnal bird, most New Zealanders have never seen one in the wild.

Here are five things you probably didn't know about kiwi.

There are five species of kiwi

Brown kiwi

Found in the North Island, this is one of the most common kiwi species. You can see brown kiwi at Rainbow Springs Nature Park

Little spotted kiwi

The smallest of the kiwi species, the little spotted kiwi is found only on offshore islands or in mainland sanctuaries. For the best chances of seeing the little spotted kiwi, you can join Kapiti Island Nature Tours for an overnight stay on Kapiti Island. 

Great spotted kiwi

The largest of all the kiwi species, the great spotted kiwi is found only around the southwest of the South Island. 

Rowi

This is the rarest of all the kiwi species, with only one natural population of around 450 birds. Rowi are found in Okarito forest on the West Coast of the South Island. To see rowi, you can visit the West Coast Wildlife Centre, or go on a guided nighttime walk with Okarito Kiwi Tours.  

Tokoeka

Found on Stewart Island, in Fiordland National Park, and in the Haast ranges. The tokoeka on Stewart Island/Rakiura are unusual for being active during the day time, giving you better chances of spotting them. Join a kiwi tour to increase your chances of getting a glimpse of them. 

Kiwis almost have more in common with mammals than birds

Kiwis are not your typical bird. They are sometimes called ‘honorary mammals’ because of their strange mammalian traits

Unlike most birds, kiwis have heavy bones filled with marrow. Their powerful legs make up a third of their body weight and allow them to run as fast as a human.

Kiwis also have highly developed senses of smell and touch, whereas most birds rely on sight as their primary sense. They are the only bird in the world to have nostrils at the end of their beak, which enables them to sniff out food in leaf litter and even beneath the soil.

Kiwis also have cat-like whiskers and shaggy plumage that is more like hair than feathers.

Kiwi birds also put a lot of energy into incubating eggs - it takes around 80 days for them to hatch. This is more than twice the typical length of time for birds, closer to the gestation period of small mammals.  

Kiwi chicks hatch fully feathered and independent

Kiwi chicks hatch fully-feathered and independent, which is very unusual for a bird.

Adult kiwis don’t need to feed their young as they are born with nutritious yolk sacs attached to their bellies. This yolk sustains the chicks for their first 10 days of life – after that they are ready to forage for their own food.

Despite being able to fend for themselves, some young kiwi will stick around their parents' territory for up to a year or more. The Stewart Island tokoeka and rowi can stay with their parents for several years, helping to raise their siblings.

Only about 5% of kiwi chicks hatched in the wild survive

Roughly 90% of kiwi chicks born in the wild die within six months, with around 70% killed by predators such as stoats and cats.

Losing this many kiwi chicks means unmanaged populations are declining by around 3% every year. Without the work of the National Kiwi Hatchery Aotearoa and other organisations around New Zealand, we could lose all wild brown kiwi within two generations.

The symbolic nature of kiwi birds and their status as a taonga (treasure) mean they have become a flagship species for conservation efforts in New Zealand.

In an inspiring story of community action, community and iwi-led groups around the country have pulled together to help protect the kiwi. An area of 230,000 hectares is actively protected by ordinary New Zealanders, an area that is close to the amount of kiwi conservation land protected by the Department of Conservation (DOC).

The protected areas include predator-free islands, fenced predator-free zones, and closely managed wild kiwi populations. 

The little spotted kiwi went from just 5 individuals to around 1,200

The little spotted kiwi is one of New Zealand's most impressive conservation success stories.

One of the earliest kiwi sanctuaries, or kōhanga, to be established in New Zealand was on Kapiti Island. The last five little spotted kiwi were placed on the island in the early 20th century.

This conservation initiative was so successful that there are now more than 1,200 birds on Kapiti Island. More than 600 chicks have been moved from the island to other kiwi habitats around the country.

Although the little spotted kiwi is extinct on mainland New Zealand, Kapiti Island and other conservation areas have ensured that this small bird has a future.

To see the little spotted kiwi for yourself, you can visit the island on an overnight tour with Kapiti Island Nature Tours.

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