Apteryx haastii Great spotted kiwi
Apteryx owenii Little spotted kiwi
Apteryx rowi Okarito brown kiwi
Apteryx australis Southern brown kiwi
Apteryx mantelli North Island brown kiwi
The distribution of each species of kiwi
Stictapteryx Iredale & Mathews, 1926
Kiwi Verheyen, 1960
Pseudapteryx Lydekker 1891
Kiwi (pronounced /kiːwiː/ KEE-wee) or kiwis are flightless birds
native to New Zealand, in the genus Apteryx and family Apterygidae.
Approximately the size of a domestic chicken, kiwi are by far the
smallest living ratites (which also consist of ostriches, emus, rheas,
and cassowaries), and lay the largest egg in relation to their body
size of any species of bird in the world.
DNA sequence comparisons have yielded the surprising conclusion that
kiwi are much more closely related to the extinct Malagasy elephant
birds than to the moa with which they shared New Zealand. There are
five recognised species, two of which are currently endangered,
another two of which are vulnerable, and one of which is
near-threatened. All species have been negatively affected by historic
deforestation but currently the remaining large areas of their forest
habitat are well protected in reserves and national parks. At present,
the greatest threat to their survival is predation by invasive
The unique adaptations of kiwi, such as their large eggs, short and
stout legs, or using their nostrils at the end of their long beak to
detect prey before they ever see it, have helped the bird to become
The kiwi is an icon of New Zealand, and the association is so strong
that the term
Kiwi is used internationally as the colloquial demonym
for New Zealanders.
2 Taxonomy and systematics
4 Behaviour and ecology
5 Status and conservation
5.2 Operation "Nest Egg"
5.3 1080 poison
6 Relationship to humans
6.1 Scientific documentation
6.3 As a national symbol
7 See also
8.2 Further reading
9 External links
Māori language word kiwi is generally accepted to be "of
imitative origin" from the call. However, some linguists derive the
word from Proto-Nuclear Polynesian *kiwi, which refers to Numenius
tahitiensis, the bristle-thighed curlew, a migratory bird that winters
in the tropical Pacific islands. With its long decurved bill and
brown body, the curlew resembles the kiwi. So when the first
Polynesian settlers arrived, they may have applied the word kiwi to
the new-found bird. The genus name Apteryx is derived from Ancient
Greek "without wing": a-, "without" or "not"; pterux, "wing".
The name is usually uncapitalised, with the plural either the
anglicised "kiwis" or, consistent with the Māori language,
appearing as "kiwi" without an "-s".
Taxonomy and systematics
Although it was long presumed that the kiwi was closely related to the
New Zealand ratites, the moa, recent DNA studies have identified
its closest relative as the extinct elephant bird of
Madagascar, and among extant ratites, the kiwi is more closely
related to the emu and the cassowaries than to the moa.
Research published in 2013 on an extinct genus, Proapteryx, known from
Miocene deposits of the Saint Bathans Fauna, found that it was
smaller and probably capable of flight, supporting the hypothesis that
the ancestor of the kiwi reached
New Zealand independently from moas,
which were already large and flightless by the time kiwi appeared.
Clockwise from left: brown kiwi (Apteryx australis), little spotted
kiwi (Apteryx owenii) and great spotted kiwi (Apteryx haastii) at
Auckland War Memorial Museum
There are five known species of kiwi, as well as a number of
Relationships in the genus Apteryx
The largest species is the great spotted kiwi or Roroa, Apteryx
haastii, which stands about 45 cm (18 in) high and weighs
about 3.3 kg (7.3 lb) (males about 2.4 kg
(5.3 lb)). It has grey-brown plumage with lighter bands. The
female lays just one egg, which both parents then incubate. The
population is estimated to be over 20,000, distributed through the
more mountainous parts of northwest Nelson, the northern West Coast,
and the Southern Alps.
The small little spotted kiwi,
Apteryx owenii is unable to withstand
predation by introduced pigs, stoats and cats, which have led to its
extinction on the mainland. About 1350 remain on Kapiti Island. It has
been introduced to other predator-free islands and appears to be
becoming established with about 50 'Little Spots' on each island. A
docile bird the size of a bantam, it stands 25 cm (9.8 in)
high and the female weighs 1.3 kg (2.9 lb). She lays one
egg, which is incubated by the male.
The Okarito kiwi, also known as the rowi or Okarito brown kiwi,
Apteryx rowi, first identified as a new species in 1994, is
slightly smaller, with a greyish tinge to the plumage and sometimes
white facial feathers. Females lay as many as three eggs in a season,
each one in a different nest. Male and female both incubate. The
distribution of these kiwi is limited to a small area on the west
coast of the South Island of New Zealand. However, studies of ancient
DNA have revealed that, in prehuman times, it was far more widespread
up the west coast of the South Island and was present in the lower
half of the North Island, where it was the only kiwi species
The southern brown kiwi, Tokoeka, or Common kiwi, Apteryx australis,
is a relatively common species of kiwi, known from south and west
parts of the South Island, that occurs at most elevations. It is
approximately the size of the great spotted kiwi and is similar in
appearance to the brown kiwi, but its plumage is lighter in colour.
Ancient DNA studies have shown that, in prehuman times, the
distribution of this species included the east coast of South
Island. There are several subspecies of the Tokoeka recognised:
The Stewart Island southern brown kiwi,
Apteryx australis lawryi, is a
subspecies of Tokoeka from Stewart Island/Rakiura.
Fiordland southern brown kiwi (Apteryx australis ?)
Fiordland tokoeka (Apteryx australis ?) live in the
remote southwest part of the South Island known as Fiordland. These
sub-species of tokoeka are relatively common and are nearly 40 cm
(16 in) tall.
The Haast southern brown kiwi, Haast tokoeka, Apteryx australis
‘Haast’, is the rarest subspecies of kiwi with only about 300
individuals. It was identified as a distinct form in 1993. It occurs
only in a restricted area in the South Island's Haast Range of the
Southern Alps at an altitude of 1,500 m (4,900 ft). This
form is distinguished by a more strongly downcurved bill and more
The North Island brown kiwi,
Apteryx mantelli or Apteryx australis
before 2000 (and still in some sources), is widespread in the northern
two-thirds of the North Island and, with about 35,000 remaining,
is the most common kiwi. Females stand about 40 cm (16 in)
high and weigh about 2.8 kg (6.2 lb), the males about
2.2 kg (4.9 lb). The North Island brown has demonstrated a
remarkable resilience: it adapts to a wide range of habitats, even
non-native forests and some farmland. The plumage is streaky red-brown
and spiky. The female usually lays two eggs, which are incubated by
1860s drawing of Apteryx, illustrating its distinctive features,
including long beak, short legs and claws, and dark hair-like
Their adaptation to a terrestrial life is extensive: like all the
other ratites (ostrich, emu, rhea and cassowary), they have no keel on
the sternum to anchor wing muscles. The vestigial wings are so small
that they are invisible under the bristly, hair-like, two-branched
feathers. While most adult birds have bones with hollow insides to
minimise weight and make flight practicable, kiwi have marrow, like
mammals and the young of other birds. With no constraints on weight
due to flight requirements, brown kiwi females carry and lay a single
egg that may weigh as much as 450 g (16 oz). Like most other
ratites, they have no uropygial gland (preen gland). Their bill is
long, pliable and sensitive to touch, and their eyes have a reduced
pecten. Their feathers lack barbules and aftershafts, and they have
large vibrissae around the gape. They have 13 flight feathers, no tail
and a small pygostyle. Their gizzard is weak and their caecum is long
The eye of the kiwi is the smallest relative to body mass in all avian
species resulting in the smallest visual field as well. The eye has
small specialisations for a nocturnal lifestyle, but kiwi rely more
heavily on their other senses (auditory, olfactory, and somatosensory
system). The sight of the kiwi is so underdeveloped that blind
specimens have been observed in nature showing how little they rely on
sight for survival and foraging. In an experiment, it was observed
that one-third of a population of A. rowi in
New Zealand under no
environmental stress had ocular lesions in one or both eyes. The same
experiment examined three specific specimens that showed complete
blindness and found them to be in good physical standing outside of
Unlike virtually every other palaeognath, which are generally
small-brained by bird standards, kiwi have proportionally large
encephalisation quotients. Hemisphere proportions are even similar to
those of parrots and songbirds, though there is no evidence of
similarly complex behaviour.
Behaviour and ecology
Before the arrival of humans in the 13th century or earlier, New
Zealand's only endemic mammals were three species of bat, and the
ecological niches that in other parts of the world were filled by
creatures as diverse as horses, wolves and mice were taken up by birds
(and, to a lesser extent, reptiles, insects and gastropods).
The kiwi's mostly nocturnal habits may be a result of habitat
intrusion by predators, including humans. In areas of New Zealand
where introduced predators have been removed, such as sanctuaries,
kiwi are often seen in daylight. They prefer subtropical and temperate
podocarp and beech forests, but they are being forced to adapt to
different habitat, such as sub-alpine scrub, tussock grassland, and
Kiwi have a highly developed sense of smell,
unusual in a bird, and are the only birds with nostrils at the end of
their long beaks.
Kiwi 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 using their
keen sense of smell, without actually seeing or feeling them. This
sense of smell is due to a highly developed olfactory chamber and
surrounding regions. It is a common belief that the kiwi relies solely
on its sense of smell to catch prey but this has not been
scientifically observed. Lab experiments have suggested that A.
australis can rely on olfaction alone but is not consistent under
natural conditions. Instead, the kiwi may rely on auditory and/or
Relative size of the egg
Once bonded, a male and female kiwi tend to live their entire lives as
a monogamous couple. During the mating season, June to March, the pair
call to each other at night, and meet in the nesting burrow every
three days. These relationships may last for up to 20 years.
They are unusual among other birds in that, along with some raptors,
they have a functioning pair of ovaries. (In most birds and in
platypuses, the right ovary never matures, so that only the left is
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, except for the great
spotted kiwi, A. haastii, in which both parents are involved. The
incubation period is 63–92 days. Producing the huge egg
places significant physiological stress 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.
Lice in the genus Apterygon and in the subgenus Rallicola
(Aptericola) are exclusively ectoparasites of kiwi
Status and conservation
Nationwide studies show that only around 5–10% of kiwi chicks
survive to adulthood without management. However, in areas
under active pest management, survival rates for North Island brown
kiwi can be far higher. For example, prior to a joint 1080 poison
operation undertaken by DOC and the
Animal Health Board in Tongariro
Forest in 2006, 32 kiwi chicks were radio-tagged. 57% of the
radio-tagged chicks survived to adulthood.
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In 2000, the Department of Conservation set up five kiwi sanctuaries
focused on developing methods to protect kiwi and to increase their
There are three kiwi sanctuaries in the North Island:
Kiwi Sanctuary (for Northland brown kiwi)
Kiwi Sanctuary on the Coromandel Peninsula (Coromandel brown
Kiwi Sanctuary near Taupo (western brown kiwi)
and two in the South Island:
Kiwi Sanctuary (Okarito kiwi)
Kiwi Sanctuary (Haast tokoeka)
A number of other mainland conservation islands and fenced sanctuaries
have significant populations of kiwi, including:
Zealandia fenced sanctuary in Wellington (little spotted kiwi)
Maungatautari Restoration Project
Maungatautari Restoration Project in Waikato (brown kiwi)
Bushy Park Forest Reserve
Bushy Park Forest Reserve near Kai Iwi, Whanganui (brown kiwi)
Otanewainuku Forest in the Bay of Plenty (brown kiwi)
Hurunui Mainland Island, south branch, Hurunui River, North Canterbury
(great spotted kiwi)
North island brown kiwi were introduced to the Cape Sanctuary in
Hawke's Bay between 2008 and 2011, which in turn provided
captive-raised chicks that were released back into Maungataniwha
Operation "Nest Egg"
Egg is a programme run by the BNZ Save the Kiwi
Trust—a partnership between the Bank of New Zealand, the Department
of Conservation and the Royal Forest and
Bird Protection Society. Kiwi
eggs and chicks are removed from the wild and hatched and/or raised in
captivity until big enough to fend for themselves—usually when they
weigh around 1200 grams (42 ounces). They are then returned
to the wild. An Operation Nest
Egg bird has a 65% chance of surviving
to adulthood—compared to just 5% for wild-hatched and raised
chicks. The tool is used on all kiwi species except little spotted
Main article: 1080 usage in New Zealand
In 2004, anti-1080 activist Phillip Anderton posed for the New Zealand
media with a kiwi he claimed had been poisoned. An investigation
revealed that Anderton lied to journalists and the public. He had
used a kiwi that had been caught in a possum trap. Extensive
monitoring shows that kiwi are not at risk from the use of
biodegradable 1080 poison.
Introduced mammalian predators, namely stoats, dogs, ferrets, and
cats, are the number one threat to kiwi. The biggest threat to kiwi
chicks is stoats, while dogs are the biggest threat to adult kiwi.
Stoats are responsible for approximately half of kiwi chick deaths in
many areas through New Zealand. Young kiwi chicks are vulnerable to
stoat predation until they reach about 1–1.2 kg in weight, at
which time they can usually defend themselves. Cats also to a lesser
extent prey on kiwi chicks. These predators can cause large and
abrupt declines in populations. In particular, dogs find the
distinctive strong scent of kiwi irresistible and easy to track, such
that they can catch and kill kiwi in seconds. Motor vehicle strike is
a threat to all kiwi where roads cross through their habitat. Badly
set possum traps often kill or maim kiwi.
Habitat destruction is another major threat to kiwi; restricted
distribution and small size of some kiwi populations increases their
vulnerability to inbreeding. Research has shown that the combined
effect of predators and other mortality (accidents etc.) results in
less than 5% of kiwi chicks surviving to adulthood.
Relationship to humans
Detail of the bottom edge of a kahu kiwi, showing the distinctive
hair-like nature of the kiwi feathers.
The Māori traditionally believed that kiwi were under the protection
of Tane Mahuta, god of the forest. They were used as food and their
feathers were used for kahu kiwi—ceremonial cloaks. Today, while
kiwi feathers are still used, they are gathered from birds that die
naturally or through road accidents or predation, or from captive
Kiwi are no longer hunted and some Maori consider
themselves the birds' guardians.
George Shaw named the genus Apteryx in his species
description of the southern brown kiwi, which he called "the southern
apteryx". Captain Andrew Barclay of the ship Providence provided Shaw
with the specimen. Shaw's description was accompanied by two plates,
engraved by Frederick Polydore Nodder; they were published in volume
24 of The Naturalist's Miscellany.
London Zoo became the first zoo to keep kiwi. The first
captive breeding took place in 1945. As of 2007 only 13 zoos
New Zealand hold kiwi. The
Frankfurt Zoo has 12, the
Berlin Zoo has seven, Walsrode
Bird Park has one, the Avifauna Bird
Park in the Netherlands has three, the
San Diego Zoo
San Diego Zoo has five, the San
Diego Zoo Safari Park has one, the National Zoo in Washington, DC has
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute has one, and
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has three.
As a national symbol
See also: National symbols of New Zealand
The kiwi on an 1898
New Zealand stamp
The kiwi as a symbol first appeared in the late 19th century in New
Zealand regimental badges. It was later featured in the badges of the
South Canterbury Battalion in 1886 and the Hastings Rifle Volunteers
in 1887. Soon after, the kiwi appeared in many military badges; and in
Kiwi Shoe Polish was widely sold in the UK and the US, the
symbol became more widely known.
During the First World War, the name "kiwi" for
New Zealand soldiers
came into general use, and a giant kiwi (now known as the Bulford
kiwi), was carved on the chalk hill above
Sling Camp in England. Usage
has become so widespread that all New Zealanders overseas and at home
are now commonly referred to as "Kiwis".
The kiwi has since become the most well-known national symbol for New
Zealand, and the bird is prominent in the coat of arms, crests and
badges of many
New Zealand cities, clubs and organisations; at the
national level, the red silhouette of a kiwi is in the centre of the
roundel of the Royal
New Zealand Air Force. The kiwi is
featured in the logo of the
New Zealand Rugby League, and the New
Zealand national rugby league team are nicknamed the Kiwis.
The reverse of a
New Zealand dollar coin contains an image of a kiwi,
and in currency trading the
New Zealand dollar is often referred to as
Birds of New Zealand
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Apteryx.
Look up kiwi in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikisource has the text of the 1920
Encyclopedia Americana article
"Great Spotted Kiwi", Species: birds, ARKive .
"Land birds: Kiwi", Native animals: birds, NZ: Department of
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Kiwi Lost his Wings (Maori legend),
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Birds (class: Aves)
Origin of birds
Origin of flight
Evolution of birds
Families and orders
Glossary of bird terms
List by population
Lists by region
Recently extinct birds
Late Quaternary prehistoric birds
Casuariiformes (emus and cassowaries)
Phasianinae (pheasants and relatives)
Columbiformes (doves and pigeons)
Caprimulgiformes (nightjars and relatives)
Apodiformes (swifts and hummingbirds)
Charadriiformes (gulls and relatives)
Gruiformes (cranes and relatives)
Eurypygiformes (kagu and sunbittern)
Gaviiformes (loons or divers)
Procellariiformes (albatrosses and petrels)
Suliformes (cormorants and relatives)
Pelecaniformes (pelicans and relatives)
Cariamiformes (seriemas and relatives)
Falconiformes (falcons and relatives)
Passeriformes (perching birds)
Cathartiformes (New World vultures and condors)
Accipitriformes (eagles and hawks)
Trogoniformes (trogons and quetzals)
Leptosomatiformes (cuckoo roller)
Bucerotiformes (hornbills and hoopoes)
Coraciiformes (kingfishers and rollers)
Piciformes (woodpeckers and relatives)