The New Zealand Kiwi

Stewart Island Brown Kiwi

Apteryx Australis Lawyri

Tokoeka - Weka with a stick

This bird, even if it is not very often seen, is well known. It has given its name to New Zealanders, who are called "Kiwis" the world over. Yet all this time the bird has been a relatively secretive, nocturnal species seldom seen in the wild state.

There are six types of Kiwis in New Zealand. Brown Kiwis are found in forested areas in the North Island, Fiordland, South Westland and Stewart Island. Spotted Kiwis are found on offshore islands and forests in the North of the South Island.

The Maori hunted the birds at night with the aid of dogs and torches. The skins and feathers were made up in to cloaks which were highly prized. The Maori believed that the kiwi was under special protection of the god Tane, and they called it Te manu a Tane - the bird that Tane hid.

Its voice is shrill and from the call comes its Maori name kiwi The male utters a repeated prolonged whistling call. The female call is shorter and hoarser. During feeding they emit snuffling sounds.

The bird is nocturnal, tail-less and flightless. It is the only living bird with its nostrils at the end of its bill. Its sense of smell is exceptionally strong for a bird and it locates the insects, grubs and spiders it eats by sniffing among the leaves, moss and rotting wood on the forest floor leaving characteristic bore marks. Kiwis have only remanants of wings, and like the moa to which they are related , lack a keel on the breastbone for attachment of flight muscles. Though kiwis have weak eyesight, long bristles around there mouths help them feel their way through the undergrowth at night.

The nest is a burrow or depression under tree roots or a hollow log. It lays a clutch of eggs of 1 or 2 very large off-white egss laid at an interval of 10-30 days. The eggs are about 180mm long and 80mm in diameter - six times as large as would be normal for a bird of its weight. The incubation period is 72-80 days and the chicks first leave the burrow when they are 4-9 days old.

The Stewart Island Brown Kiwi or Apteryx australis lawyri is the largest of the Brown Kiwis and is unique in that it is often seen in the daytime. Why is that? Well this is the only species of Kiwi where the female helps out in the incubation of the eggs so the male goes foraging during the day. They are faithful to each other for life.

The Maori name for the Stewart Island Kiwi is Tokoeka which translates as "weka with a stick". This derives from the appearance of the long stick-like bill when the bird is walking and probing the earth. Mason Bay has the highest density of Kiwi's in New Zealand and a unique opporunity to see a Kiwi in the wild.

One unusual behaviour of the Stewart Island Toekoeka is that they group themselves into extended families, often seeming to include a range of generations. Half a dozen or more may occupy a single burrow or shelter. They also forage as a griup. At any approach the lead male sounds the ear-piercing alarm and all the others scatter to cover, leaving him to defend the territory against the intruder.

The Kiwi survived for so many million of years because its protective colouration and hidden life-style protected it from the old native enemies - threats from the air by the giant eagle Harpagornis or the huge harrier, both now extinct themselves. But the kiwi was in no way equipped to protect itself against the threats from the ground - stoats, ferrets, weasels, possums, pigs, dogs, cats and humans.

Resourceful it may be - strong, fleet-footed and feisty - but the kiwi has exhausted its own resources and is now dependent on ours.

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