Kiwi

The kiwi is a unique and curious bird: it cannot fly, has loose, hair-like feathers, strong legs and no tail.

The kiwi is the national icon of New Zealand and the unofficial national emblem. New Zealanders have been called "Kiwis" since the nickname was bestowed by Australian soldiers in the First World War.

Today a lot of dedicated people help to prevent kiwi from becoming extinct. On this page you can learn more kiwi facts, what threats they face, and how you can help.

Species of kiwi

Stewart Island tokoeka.
Stewart Island tokoeka

Kiwi are related to a group of birds called ratites. The closest relatives to kiwi today are emus and cassowaries in Australia, but also the now-extinct moa of New Zealand.

There are five species of kiwi:

The brown kiwi and tokoeka are further divided into four geographically and genetically distinct forms:

  • The Northland brown kiwi, Coromandel brown kiwi, western brown kiwi and the eastern brown kiwi
  • The Haast tokoeka, the northern Fiordland tokoeka, the southern Fiordland tokoeka and the Stewart Island tokoeka

Quick facts

  • Kiwi are mostly nocturnal
  • They are most commonly forest dwellers, making daytime dens and nests in burrows, hollow logs or under dense vegetation.
  • Kiwi are the only bird to have nostrils at the end of its very long bill
  • Their nostils are used to probe in the ground, sniffing out invertebrates to eat, along with some fallen fruit.
  • They also has one of the largest egg-to-body weight ratios of any bird
  • The egg averages 15 per cent of the female's body weight (compared to two per cent for the ostrich).
  • Females are larger than males (up to 3.3 kg and 45 cm).
  • Kiwi are long-lived, and depending on the species live for between 25 and 50 years.

For more information, check out DOC's work with kiwi, read stories, or find videos about kiwi.

Breeding

Adult kiwi usually mate for life, and are strongly territorial. Depending on the species, the male kiwi does most of the egg incubation, which is usually one clutch of one egg per year from June to December.

Chicks hatch fully feathered after a long incubation of 70-85 days, emerge from the nest to feed at about five days old and are never fed by their parents. Juveniles grow slowly, taking three to five years to reach adult size.

Status

All kiwi species are threatened with extinction, but to varying degrees. The rowi and the Haast tokoeka are our most threatened kiwi, due to their small population size and limited number of populations.

The brown kiwi, great spotted kiwi, and the Fiordland and Stewart Island forms of tokoeka are “nationally vulnerable”, the third highest threat ranking in the New Zealand Threat Classification System; and the little spotted kiwi is classified as “at risk (recovering)”.

Rate of decline

Kiwi were once more abundant and widely distributed throughout New Zealand than they are today. The overall rate of decline for kiwi populations not part of conservation programmes is estimated to be three per cent per year for brown kiwi, and two per cent for great spotted kiwi and tokoeka.

All populations of the remaining species are under management. In 2008, the number of kiwi remaining was estimated to be approximately 72,600.

Distribution

View a map of the distribution of kiwi.

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Kiwi and people

Cultural importance

Kiwi feathers.
Kiwi feathers

Kiwi are a significant national icon, equally cherished by all cultures in New Zealand.

Kiwi are a symbol for the uniqueness of New Zealand wildlife and the value of our natural heritage.

The bird itself is a taonga (treasure) to Maori, who have strong cultural, spiritual and historic associations with kiwi. Its feathers are valued in weaving kahukiwi (kiwi feather cloak) for people of high rank.

Due to the cultural significance to Maori and the traditional knowledge about the bird, tangata whenua are a key stakeholder in kiwi management. For a number of local iwi and hapu throughout New Zealand, this relationship between tangata whenua and kiwi has been formally recognised as part of their Treaty of Waitangi settlement claims, which encompass specific references to species recovery work. This includes the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998.

Community involvement

Kiwi have become flagship species for conservation and are often used as a measure for the state of our natural environment and the outcome and value of community conservation projects.

There is a considerable level of community awareness and concern about kiwi. Northland and the Coromandel are the focus for community kiwi care groups, but ‘the bug’ is steadily spreading south. Today, more than 80 community groups actively protect kiwi over a combined area estimated to be similar to - or potentially greater than - the 70 000 ha protected by DOC on public conservation land. Land is managed for wild populations, as well as at fenced predator-proof sites and on predator-free islands.

Kiwi work is now carried out by a variety of organisations, agencies, groups and individuals outside of the DOC. Key players include tangata whenua, community groups, landowners and landcare trusts, Royal Forest & Bird Society, and captive practitioners and institutions.

Kiwi song recording

Listen to or download recordings of kiwi song.

Male North Island brown kiwi song (MP3, 558K)
35 second recording of a male brown kiwi calling his mate.

Female North Island brown kiwi song (MP3, 2252K)
2 minute 24 second recording of a female brown kiwi calling her mate.

Find more bird song recordings

Help with files: see Open and save files.
Copyright of files: Song files may be reused as long as you attribute the work to the Department of Conservation. Read our Copyright terms.

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Threats to kiwi

Introduced mammalian predators, namely stoats, ferrets, dogs and cats, are the main threat to kiwi. Other threats include habitat modification/loss and motor vehicle strike, as well as the small population size and distribution of some species. New avian disease and parasites that may reach New Zealand present a further threat to kiwi populations.

Stoats

Rowi killed by a stoat.
Rowi killed by a stoat

In most parts of the country, stoats are responsible for approximately half of kiwi chick deaths on the mainland. Without management only 10% of kiwi chicks survive to the age of six months. Young kiwi chicks are vulnerable to stoat predation until they reach about one kilogram in weight, at which time they can usually defend themselves against stoats.

Dogs

Dogs frequently kill adult kiwi and can cause catastrophic declines in local populations.

All dogs, regardless of size, breed, training or temperament are potential kiwi killers. Farm dogs, hunting dogs, visiting dogs and pet dogs are equally attracted to the strong distinctive scent of kiwi.

They may not mean to kill, but kiwi are extremely easily crushed in dog’s jaws, even if just in a playful bite. Kiwi have no sternum (breastbone), so their ribcage is very vulnerable to collapse. It is now recognised that dogs significantly reduce the life expectancy of adult Northland brown kiwi to just 14 years on average.

Find out about kiwi avoidance training for dogs on the Kiwis for Kiwi website

Read more about dogs and Northland brown kiwi

Cats

Uncontrolled, wild or abandoned cats are a threat and kill kiwi chicks. Tests with radio collars on pet cats have shown their ability to wander up to 20 kilometres from home.

Ferrets

Ferrets frequently kill adult kiwi.

Introduced mammals can also have a wider impact on kiwi, for example competition by rodents for similar food appears to result in delayed growth of kiwi chicks and therefore increased pressure on the overall population at some sites.

Small population size

Risks to small populations of kiwi include loss of genetic diversity, inbreeding and vulnerability to localised dramatic events such as fire, disease or predator increases. Limited dispersal and associated lowered chances of finding a mate in declining, small populations can also lead to lower reproductive rates, worsening the effect of the decline.

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You can help

For New Zealanders, the kiwi is not just another bird and saving kiwi is not just a matter of concern for scientists and conservationists. To all New Zealanders, kiwi are an important part of our unique natural heritage.

Volunteer with rowi.
Volunteer with rowi

You can help save the kiwi in many ways, by making a donation or getting involved with the conservation of local kiwi populations. Here is a list of things you can do to help save our national icon:

Control dogs and other pets

  • Keep your dog tied up and cats inside at night if you live in or near kiwi habitat.
  • Avoid taking your dogs into kiwi areas. Dogs are prohibited from all kiwi sanctuaries. If you do need to take your dog into kiwi areas, take it to kiwi aversion training, and keep it on a leash under strict control at all times. Remember dogs are not permitted in many conservation areas so check with your local DOC office first.
  • Report roaming dogs in kiwi areas to DOC.
  • Do not dump unwanted pets (dogs, cats or ferrets) in the bush. Give them to the SPCA or have them humanely put down by a vet.

Report sick or injured kiwi

  • If you find a sick, injured or dead kiwi please take it to your nearest DOC office.
  • If you hit a kiwi with your car, do not hit-and-run! If the bird is injured or dead please take it to your nearest DOC office.

Volunteer to help save kiwi

  • Volunteer your time and energy to local kiwi conservation community projects.
  • Encourage the safeguarding of kiwi habitat in your area.
  • Consider moving to or establishing a cat- and dog-free housing subdivision.

Watch out for kiwi

  • If you are lucky to have kiwi on your property, protect them by fencing and covenanting habitat, trapping predators, keeping dogs under control and putting escape ramps in cattle stops.
  • Learn to recognise kiwi calls and report what you hear and see to DOC.
  • Drive carefully at night and watch for kiwi on roads when driving through kiwi habitat (look out for the distinctive yellow kiwi road sign).
  • Employ techniques such as the kiwi-safe harvesting regime if you manage plantation forest.

Kiwis for kiwis logo.

Read how you can help Northland brown kiwi

Make a donation

Visit the Kiwis for kiwi website and make a secure on-line credit card donation.

If you are a BNZ customer, you can donate by taking up a kiwi EFTPOS card, and a kiwi cheque book. All donations go directly to Kiwis for kiwi and are allocated to kiwi conservation projects throughout New Zealand.

Make a donation at any BNZ branch or via a BNZ ATM machine.


Related links

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Find out more

Learn more

New Zealand Birds Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand birds

Contacts

DOC's 24 hour emergency hotline:

0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)

Call to report sick or injured wildlife, and whale or dolphin strandings.