Why is the kiwi so special?

The kiwi is New Zealand's national icon and part of our world-wide image. New Zealanders have been "Kiwis" since the days of the First World War. It's a nickname bestowed by fellow Australian soldiers, and it stuck. Kiwi are a natural fit with New Zealanders’ national psyche – we relate to their quirkiness, evolved over millions of years of isolation from mammals. There are two populations of Kiwi endemic to the West Coast and both populations are classed as critically endangered, with continuing threats to their survival.

The kiwi is is flightless, largely nocturnal and more like a mammal than a bird. The feathers are hair-like, it has whiskers like a cat and heavy marrow-filled bones with very strong muscular legs. At the tip of that very long beak are the external nostrils which the kiwi use to find food in the ground. The kiwi's large feet have fleshy footpads with large strong claws.

Why can we only see the kiwi in the dark?

The kiwi is a nocturnal bird, that means they only come out at night. So you can see them, we need to make it their night time.

What does the kiwi eat?

The kiwi uses its extraordinary bill to probe deeply into the ground for food. There is a sensory organ at the tip of the bill that detects the vibrations of worms and other forest floor invertebrate animals. They will also feed on spiders, slugs, snails, woodlice, centipedes, milipedes, beetle larvae, caterpillars, weta, crickets and ants. The kiwi is an omnivore and will eat fruit and seed of native forest trees.

Westland's Kiwi

Westland is the home of the most critically endangered kiwi in New Zealand. The Rowi is found in the Okarito forest in South Westland and the Haast Tokoeka is found in the sub-alpine grasslands near Haast. The Haast Tokoeka is distinguished by its brown/grey plumage with a reddish tinge.

The Rowi are distinguished by their grayish colour and often have white patches of their face; they are very soft to touch. The Rowi can live up to 100 years of age, which is twice as long as the North Island Brown.

The numbers of these Kiwi have dwindled to 350 of each species. This has been due to devastation caused by stoats, rats, opossum, dogs, feral cats and motor vehicles. The main predator is the stoat; they will go into the burrows of kiwi and eat the egg, or kill kiwi chicks.

The BNZ Save The Kiwi Trust in conjunction with the Department of Conservation and Willowbank Wildlife Reserve have a programme called Operation Nest Egg (ONE).

This programme enables the kiwi sanctuaries in Okarito and Haast to be carefully monitored and the kiwi eggs to be taken to Willowbank where they are hatched, then the chicks sent to predator free islands. When the chicks are big enough they are transported to a safe island: the Rowi go to Moutara Island in the Queen Charlotte Sound and the Haast Tokoeka go to Centre and Bute Islands in Lake Te Anau and Rona Island in Lake Manapouri.

Here they spend 12 months reaching stoat proof™ size before returning to their home forests on the West Coast.


Department of Conservation

Save the Kiwi



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