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New Zealand’s national bird - Brown Kiwi or Kiwi – Apteryx australis

Brown Kiwi or KiwiApteryx australis – is endemic to New Zealand and is New Zealand’s national bird. It is New Zealand’s most unique bird and it is also its most ancient.

The Kiwi is a brown bird with unique feathers that have a hair like quality and is a flightless bird with rudimentary wings and no tail. It is about the size of a domestic chicken, kiwi is by far the smallest living member of the ratite family of birds which include the Ostrich, Emu, Cassowary and the Rhea. It has a long extended grey bill with nostrils at the end. It has four toes compared to the other ratites which have two or three.

They are found on both North and South Islands, Stewart, Little Barrier and Kapiti Islands.

The male bird call is a “ah-el ah-el” uttered many times, while the female call is a louder, hasher call “aarh aarh” or “ah-eh ah eh”. They start calling about 40 minutes after sundown and are very vocal for up to two hours and will call intermittently throughout the night.

Kiwi’s have a highly developed sense of smell, unusual in a bird, and are the only birds with nostrils at the end of their long grey beaks. They eat small invertebrates, seeds, grubs, and many varieties of worms. They also may eat fruit, small crayfish, eels and amphibians. Because their nostrils are located at the end of their long beaks, Kiwi can locate insects and worms underground without actually seeing or feeling them, due to their keen sense of smell.

During the mating season, June to March, the pair call to each other at night, and meet in the nesting burrow every three days. Once bonded, a male and female kiwi tend to live their entire lives as a monogamous couple. These relationships may last for up to 20 years. They are unique among other birds in that they have a functioning pair of ovaries. Kiwi eggs can weigh up to one quarter the weight of the female. Usually only one egg is laid per season. The kiwi lays the biggest egg in proportion to its size of any bird in the world, so even though the kiwi is about the size of a domestic chicken, it is able to lay eggs that are about six times the size of a chicken's egg. The eggs are smooth in texture, and are ivory or greenish white. The male incubates the egg, for a period of between 63 to 92 days. Producing the huge egg places a lot of demands on the female. For the thirty days it takes to grow the fully developed egg the female must eat three times her normal amount of food. Two to three days before the egg is laid there is little space left inside the female for her stomach and she is forced to fast.

Introduced mammalian predators, namely dogs, stoats, ferrets and cats are the number one threat to kiwi. Other threats include habitat modification/loss and road strike. The restricted distribution and small size of some kiwi populations increases their vulnerability to inbreeding.

Conservation Status – Endangered.

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