The Kiwi Bird
New Zealand's Indigenous Flightless Bird
The Kiwi bird, of the order
Apterygiformes-Ratitae, occurs only in New Zealand. Although primarily a bird of New
Zealands 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.
The kiwis 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
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 mothers 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 males 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 population. 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.
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 appearing in numerous sporting, political, and
other newspaper cartoons.
During 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 emblems popularity.
Today, 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.
* Thanks Dunc :-)