Apterygiformes – Kiwis

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

Commonly known as kiwis, this order is a group of small, flightless birds that are a unique symbol of New Zealand, their only natural habitat. These fascinating creatures are distinguished by their hair-like feathers, long, slender beaks with sensitive nostrils at the tip, and stout legs. There are five recognized species of kiwi: the North Island Brown Kiwi, the Okarito Kiwi (also known as the Rowi), the Southern Tokoeka, the Little Spotted Kiwi, and the Great Spotted Kiwi.

Kiwis are a prime example of the unusual and specialized wildlife that has evolved in New Zealand’s isolated environment. Their adaptation to terrestrial life is so complete that they cannot fly, have underdeveloped wing muscles, and their bones are solid instead of hollow, which is unusual for most birds.

Despite their small size, resembling that of a domestic chicken, kiwis have claimed a big title: they lay the largest eggs, about the body size of any bird in the world. These massive eggs are up to 20% of the female’s body weight. The eggs have large yolks, providing ample nutrients to the developing chick.

Kiwis’ nocturnal nature and excellent sense of smell are unique among birds. Their long beaks are not just for probing the soil in search of invertebrates, worms, and berries; they are also an extraordinary olfactory instrument. With their nostrils located at the tip of the beak, kiwis can detect prey and sense their environment by smell, which is quite a rare trait among birds.

The precarious state of kiwi populations has prompted a range of conservation initiatives, including predator control, habitat protection, and breeding programs. “Operation Nest Egg” is a notable program that involves taking eggs from the wild to hatch them in captivity, where they can be raised without the threat of predation and then releasing them back into the wild.