The New Zealand Kiwi

The New Zealand Kiwi is our national icon, a symbol of our uniqueness as a country and a name we all associate ourselves with. New Zealander’s have been known as “Kiwis” since the First World War when the nickname was given to us by Australian soldiers. The kiwi certainly is unique: it cannot fly, is largely nocturnal, has one of the largest egg to body weight ratios of any bird and is the only bird known to have its nostrils at the end of its bill. David Bellamy describes the kiwi as “improbable but true”.

The kiwi evolved 30 million years ago. In a land with no mammals it adapted to fill the habitat and niche that mammals fill elsewhere. There are four species of kiwi, with six identified varieties: North Island Brown, Great Spotted, Little Spotted, Okarito, Haast Tokoeka and Southern Tokoeka.

Kiwis are monogamous and pairs mate for life. The female is larger and more dominant than the male who usually does all the incubation duties. Both the male and the female will vigorously defend their territories and throughout their territory they will excavate burrows and build shelters. The female lays an egg which averages 15 % of her body weight. The egg hatches after about 80 days and the young kiwis leave the nest at about 2-5 weeks of age.

The kiwi feeds mainly on invertebrates such as worms and beetles. It finds its prey by tapping its bill along the ground as it walks and sniffing. Once it has smelt out its underground dinner it then pushes its bill deep into the ground and catches it. Sometimes a kiwi will use its weight to drive its bill deeper into the ground by kicking up its legs.

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