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The Kiwi Bird
New Zealand's Indigenous Flightless Bird

North Island Brown KiwiThe Kiwi bird, of the order Apterygiformes-Ratitae, occurs only in New Zealand. Although primarily a bird of New Zealand’s native forests, kiwis also live in scrub and native grasslands. Because the kiwi is a semi-nocturnal, secretive bird, few New Zealanders have seen their national bird in the wild.

The kiwi is the sole survivor of an ancient order of birds including the now extinct moas. A flightless bird about the size of a domestic fowl, the kiwi has coarse, bristly, hair-like feathers. Females are larger than males.

Kiwis grow to about the size of a chicken and weigh between three and nine pounds. They have no tail and tiny two inch wings which for all practical purposes, are useless. Despite its awkward appearance, a kiwi can actually outrun a human and have managed to survive because of their alertness and their sharp, three-toed feet, which enable them to kick and slash an enemy.

Little Spotted KiwiThe kiwi’s long slender bill has nostrils at the lower end. Using its excellent sense of smell and flexible bill, the kiwi feeds on worms, insects and grubs, supplemented by leaves, berries and seeds. There are five kinds of kiwi in New Zealand - three closely related... Brown Kiwis, the Little Spotted Kiwi and the Great Spotted Kiwi... are pictured at the bottom of the page.

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Kiwi EggThe main breeding period is from late winter to summer. Nests may be in hollow logs, under tree roots, in natural holes or in burrows excavated mainly by the male. Most clutches contain one or two eggs. Eggs are smooth, and coloured ivory or greenish-white. Kiwi eggs are proportionately larger compared to the size of the adult female than the eggs of any other bird. An egg may reach one-quarter of its mother’s weight. After the first egg is laid, the male takes over incubation and nest maintenance. Incubation takes about eleven weeks but if the female returns to lay another egg, the male has to sit on the clutch for a much longer time. Leaving the nest only occasionally, the male’s weight can decrease by up to one third.

The young kiwi emerges wearing shaggy adult plumage. The young chick is not fed by the adult, but survives on a large reserve of yolk in its belly. Gaining strength, the chick remains in the nest for six to ten days. The young kiwi then leaves the burrow, and, accompanied by the male, begins to search for food. Kiwis have been known to live up to twenty years.

Before the coming of the Maori, the kiwi had no predators. Although the Maori valued kiwi feathers for making cloaks, the number of birds killed by Maoris was probably insignificant. During the latter part of last century, many thousands of kiwis were captured by Europeans for zoos, museums and private collections. Bush clearing, introduced predators, opossum traps and motor vehicles have all contributed to the reduction in the kiwi populaKiwi Hatchedtion. However, the kiwi has fared markedly better than other flightless birds such as the Kakapo and Takahe. As long as suitable habitat is set aside, and the remaining kiwis are left undisturbed, the survival of this unique bird should be assured.Kiwi Hatching

The Kiwi as an emblem first appeared late 19th* century in New Zealand regimental badges. Badges of the South Canterbury Battalion in 1886 and the Hastings Rifle Volunteers in 1887 both featured kiwis. Later, kiwis appeared in a great number of military badges. In 1887 the new Auckland University College (opened 1883) featured on their Coat of Arms three kiwis, symbolising the confinement of the kiwi to the islands of New Zealand. Students of the University in 1905, began publishing a magazine called “The Kiwi” which survived until the mid 1960s.

The Kiwi symbol began to be recognised internationally in 1906 when Kiwi Shoe Polish was launched in Melbourne by a man with a New Zealand born wife.  The polish was widely marketed in Britain and the USA during World War I and later. By 1908, kiwis were appGreat Spotted Kiwiearing in numerous sporting, political, and other newspaper cartoons.

Kiwi and it's EggDuring the First World War, New Zealanders carved a giant kiwi on the chalk hill above Sling Camp in England. In Flanders during the war, the name “Kiwi” for New Zealand soldiers came into general use. By the Second World War, the Kiwi was synonymous with New Zealand Servicemen overseas. During the war, the Kiwi Concert Party toured many battle areas. The Kiwi (New Zealand Army) Football Team which toured the British Isles, France and Germany in 1945-46 also enhanced the emblem’s popularity.

South Island Brown KiwiToday, New Zealanders overseas (and at home) are still invariably called “Kiwis”. The Kiwi is still closely associated with the Armed Forces. The New Zealand dollar is often referred to as the “The Kiwi” and the kiwi fruit is known as a “Kiwi” in some countries. Kiwis feature in the coat of arms, crests and badges of many New Zealand cities, clubs and organisations.

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* Thanks Dunc :-)

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