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For some of you, you may have wondered over time why New Zealanders have adopted being referred to as 'Kiwis'. Not only is it a pretty sweet name, but it's also the name of our national icon; the Kiwi bird. These days, it's actually an extraordinary moment to get a glimpse of one of these beautiful birds for reasons why I’ll go into detail later on in this blog.
There are four main species of Kiwi in New Zealand: the Brown Kiwi, Spotted Kiwi (devised into little and great), Rowi and Tokoeka. Approximately the size of a domestic chicken, Kiwi belong to an ancient group of birds that can’t fly – the Ratites. It is relatively unknown how they arrived in New Zealand for this reason. They are not only omnivores but also nocturnal, which is one reason why it is unlikely you’ll see them out and about in the day time.
Kiwi feathers have evolved in such a way to suit a more ground-based lifestyle, and therefore have a more hair-like texture and appearance. These hair-like, bushy coats help to camouflage the little kiwis from aerial predators by allowing them to blend in with the brush. Pretty sweet eh?
It's a great question, and the answer is; a lot! There is a reason it has been adopted as a national icon, but to not be biased, I've attached some pretty cool facts about them below:
- Female kiwi birds lay one of the largest sized of egg in relation to their body size of any bird in the world. A kiwi egg takes up about 20% of the female bird's body and weighs about 16 oz. So, to give some perspective here, a human baby only takes up about 5% of its mother's body…
- Our Kiwi birds are very loyal and are known to be monogamous, meaning that they usually mate for life with their significant other. Their relationships have known to last over 20 years. During the mating season, both males and females make their calls to one another at night time.
- They are the only birds with nostrils at the end of their beaks, giving them the ability to sense prey underground. This enables them to have a pretty awesome sense of smell which is a rare attribute for a bird.
- It's a rare phenomenon to be a flightless bird, but there is a reason for it. Many years ago, before humans actually came to New Zealand, no terrestrial predators were endangering the kiwi population. So most flightless birds were relatively safe foraging and nesting on the ground.
The answer is yes. Unfortunately, an average of 27 kiwi are killed by predators EVERY WEEK. That's a population decline of around 1,400 kiwi every year. At this rate, Kiwi may disappear from the mainland in our lifetime, a stark contrast from just 100 years ago where Kiwi numbered in the millions.
For the dog lovers and owners out there, this is one of the main reasons why you cannot take a dog into a New Zealand National Park. As a single roaming dog can wipe out an entire kiwi population in a matter of days.
One of the questions you might have is why are they being killed off so easily? Well, it’s due to the phenomenal growth of non-native pests that were brought to New Zealand during human settlement here, predominately with the increased arrival of Europeans in the 1800
s. These consist of Rats, Possums and Stoats.
- Possums were believed to be herbivores and were brought over for the fur trade. They were then captured on film eating eggs and young chicks of the Kokako bird.
- Stoats were brought over from the UK to control the outbreak of rabbits but before long, took to the bush where they stole eggs from nests and killed young native birds.
- Rats have been here the longest having come over on the various vessels that have landed on New Zealand shores. A lot of effort has gone toward exterminating them for good, but it's an ongoing battle!
As mentioned, it’s a pretty rare/ special moment to actually see a Kiwi bird both due to their number but also for the times they are out and about. However, as well as many sanctuaries and reserves put in place for the preservation of the Kiwi. There are actually places you can still see Wild Kiwi. Some of the more popular locations include:
- Hauraki Gulf Islands
- Stewart Island
- Waipoua Forest, Northland
- Aroha Island, Kerikeri
- Tuatapere, Southland
Many Kiwi's will tell you (the people not the birds) that they have never seen a Kiwi, so you will do well to see a wild one. However, there are ways of increasing your chances remarkably if you're short on time, and that is by taking a guided tour at a kiwi sanctuary/reserve. Bear in mind, when concerning wildlife, it is still never a given, but being in the right place at the right time, the odds will be in your favour! These tours usually operate late at night, and you'll have to focus on standing dead still and not making a sound. This will increase your chances of seeing our national icon!
While some kiwi still live on the (main) North and South Islands, increasing numbers of Kiwi are transferred to protected colonies. The Department of Conservation has formulated a plan called the “Kiwi Recovery Plan” where the government is working in partnerships with charities such as ‘Kiwis for Kiwi’.
Together, they have raised funds to actively protect and monitor the kiwi population, forming colonies through the building of reserves and sanctuaries, which currently manages 20% of the total Kiwi population. That's around 14,000 Kiwi birds. While only 20% survival rate of kiwi chicks is needed for the population to increase, the current Kiwi population sits around 68,000, which is by far the lowest it has ever been.
There have been some significant successes though and management of critical areas such as the Coromandel. The Coromandel is home to the second most numerous Kiwi, the Brown Kiwi, has doubled its population since 2008 through effective kiwi management.
It is now known that more than 90 community and iwi-led groups actively protect Kiwi over a combined area estimated to be 230,000 hectares. So a significant amount of effort is going toward the preservation of our icon; because they are so special.
If you would like to help the Kiwi recovery and get involved, you can donate by visiting the following link:
At Sole Ventures, we are incredibly passionate about our incredible New Zealand environment and do our utmost to protect and preserve it. One of the many measures we are involved in is a trapping project over a large block of land on the Tutukaka Coast in Northland. Initially, we began trapping and other methods of pest control in conjunction with our tree planting initiatives on one block of land. This has now expanded to working with the local council and dozens of our neighbours to initiate, set up, and manage an ongoing pest control operation across hundreds of acres. The goal is to create a protected area that we can keep expanding outwards from to provide our Kiwi and other native species a protected environment to live in. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep updated with our progress!