new zealand forest home of the new zealand kiwi bird

Kiwi Bird – the beloved New Zealand national bird

orla

August 2019 | By Orla O Muiri

4 minute read

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Ah the Kiwis, what a bunch of beautiful, feisty, nocturnal creatures they are… I’m referring to the kiwi bird of course, however, several parallels can be drawn between New Zealand’s national bird and the humans who call this place home!

The New Zealand kiwi bird (the bird who lends its name to New Zealanders) is both the country’s national bird and unofficial emblem. There is a lot more to these flightless fur-balls (feather-balls technically, but that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it!) than you might think, so much so that we have named one of our epic trips after them, the Kiwi Classic.

We want to enhance your knowledge of our favourite bird, answer all of your questions and tell you some fun facts about this iconic creature. You’ll be able to wow all of your friends with your kiwi bird knowledge or blitz everyone in the next pub quiz when a random question arises like why is a kiwifruit thus named?

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North Island brown New Zealand kiwi bird, the New Zealand national bird

The bird, the myth, the legend - a North Island brown kiwi bird. The New Zealand kiwi bird in all its glory!

Where are kiwi birds from?

The New Zealand national bird is a member of the ratites family; these are a group of large, flightless birds of Gondwanan origin. Kiwi birds are related to Madagascar’s elephant bird, Australian emus and cassowaries and New Zealand’s extinct moa. A lot of speculation remains around how they first arrived in New Zealand, were they always flightless?!

How did the kiwi bird get its name?

The bird was believed to be protected by the god Tane and therefore called Te manu a Tane - the bird that Tane hid. It was the Maori who christened the flightless bird ‘kiwi’. There are several differing accounts of why it is so-called. Some accounts say it was named for its shrill call, others believe it was inspired by the Polynesian bird ‘kivi’, which resembles our kiwi.

How many species of kiwi bird are there in New Zealand?

Five! These are the:

  • Little spotted kiwi/Kiwi Pukupuku – found on several offshore islands.
  • Great spotted kiwi/Roroa – found in the northwestern South Island and Arthur’s Pass.
  • Brown kiwi – found in the North Island.
  • Rowi – found at Okarito and the West Coast of the South Island.
  • Tokoeka – found in Fiordland, the Haast Range and on Stewart Island.

How big is a kiwi bird?

A kiwi bird is roughly the same size as a chicken. The female kiwi is bigger than the male.

What is the average kiwi bird egg size?

Wait for it… a kiwi egg is roughly six times larger than a chicken’s egg! That’s a whopping 120mm long and 80mm wide!

Why is it the New Zealand national bird?

This unique and flightless bird is exclusive to New Zealand. It also has special significance to the Maori who once used the feathers to weave kahukiwi (kiwi feather cloak) for their chiefs.

Is kiwifruit named after the kiwi bird?

In the 1970s, the fruit, that was known as the Chinese gooseberry was rebranded as the kiwifruit in a marketing move by New Zealand plant breeders. The furry brown fruit somewhat resembled the New Zealand kiwi bird and the name stuck!

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Fun Facts About the Kiwi Bird

  • The Kiwi bird is flightless, nocturnal and it doesn’t have a tail!
  • Kiwi birds are burrowers and could have over 50 burrows within their territory!
  • Unlike many of their human friends, Kiwis are monogamous aka they mate for life.
  • They are grumpy little birds, with razor-sharp claws and can deliver a serious kick to their enemies when provoked.
  • Kiwi chicks (baby kiwi bird) hatch fully feathered.
  • A kiwi bird egg takes up 20% of the mother’s body… that’s one big egg in proportion to its body size.
Little spotted new zealand kiwi bird

The New Zealand national bird, our accurately-named little spotted kiwi, foraging for grubs.

Where You Can Go and See The Kiwi Bird

Lucky for you, there are ample opportunities to see a kiwi bird in the flesh on any one of our epic New Zealand Trails trips!

On our World Heritage tour, you can spend a few hours of your free day at the Kiwi Birdlife Park in Queenstown checking out the brown kiwi housed there. You can also learn all about the Park’s ‘breed for release’ program. On our Sweet North tour, you will get the chance to visit the kiwi house in Te Puia, Rotorua to see brown kiwi! And on our Kiwi Classic, you have the opportunity to join a guided wild-kiwi spotting tour. As they are nocturnal birds, this midnight tour means a late night!

On some of our South Island trips, you have the opportunity to visit the National Kiwi Centre in Hokitika. They house the super rare Rowi kiwi there; they are the most critically endangered species of kiwi.

Sustainability Efforts to Save the Maori National Bird

The kiwi bird population is not extinct, but it is in serious decline. The biggest threats they face include stoats, ferrets, weasels, possums, dogs and humans. According to the Department of Conservation, there are only about 68,000 kiwi left and we're losing 2% of our unmanaged kiwi every year – that's roughly 20 per week.

According to the national charity, Kiwis for Kiwi, “approximately 20% of the kiwi population is under management. In areas where predators are controlled, 50-60% of kiwi chicks survive. When areas are not under management, 95% of kiwis die before reaching breeding age.”

There is however a lot of room for hope! The Department of Conservation has some great pointers on how you can help keep the New Zealand national bird safe. This includes:

  • Reporting a sick, injured or dead kiwi.
  • Minimising the threat of pets.
  • Watching out for the kiwi.
  • Joining the action by learning more/getting involved with Kiwis for kiwi.

So, in conclusion, we think kiwi birds are amazing wee things and we bloody love them! So come join one of our awesome trips and see them for yourself!

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