Apterygidae – Kiwis

Kiwis are so iconic to New Zealand that people from the country are referred to as Kiwis

Kiwis are native exclusively to New Zealand. These distinctive, nocturnal birds symbolize New Zealand’s unique wildlife and are integral to the nation’s ecological heritage. There are five recognized species of kiwi, each with its own distinct range and habitat preferences within the country.

Kiwis are relatively small, about the size of a chicken, and are notable for being flightless. Their wings are tiny and vestigial, having lost their function over evolutionary time due to the absence of ground predators in their native habitats until human arrival. Kiwis are covered in shaggy feathers that lack the barbules that lock most bird feathers together, giving them a hair-like appearance.

These birds are primarily nocturnal and have adapted to life in the dark. While their vision is poor, they have an exceptional sense of smell, a rarity among birds. The kiwi’s nostrils are located at the tip of its long beak, which it uses to probe the soil for invertebrates, such as worms, larvae, and insects. Their beaks are also highly sensitive, with sensory pits at the tip that can detect movements of prey underground.

Kiwis are solitary and highly territorial. They communicate with each other using calls that can carry over long distances in the dense forests they inhabit. The males are particularly vocal, and their calls play a role in maintaining territory boundaries and attracting mates.

Breeding involves a long-term pair bond, with both sexes defending an established territory. Kiwis nest in burrows, hollow logs, or under dense vegetation. The female lays one of the largest eggs in relation to body size of any bird in the world. The male then takes over the incubation duties, keeping the eggs warm until they hatch.

Kiwis face several threats, primarily from introduced mammalian predators such as stoats, dogs, and cats, which prey on eggs, chicks, and adult birds. Habitat destruction and fragmentation have also contributed to their decline.