New Zealand is home to more species of flightless birds – both living and extinct – than any other country in the world, including kiwi, kākāpō, takahē, penguins, weka, moa, three flightless wrens, and two adzebills.
No mammal predators
One reason New Zealand has so many flightless birds is that before humans arrived about 1000 years ago, there were no land mammals that preyed on birds. Predators were other birds, such as the laughing owl, eagle, goshawk, and falcon. With no mammalian predators sniffing them out, kiwi and other flightless birds could safely forage on the forest floor, living and nesting on the ground.
Since people arrived in the kiwi’s land, the forest floor has become a place of threat and peril for all New Zealand’s flightless birds.
Flying takes a lot of energy. With the ground being so safe, birds could save energy by walking. There is debate about whether kiwi evolved from a flightless ancestor or lost its ability to fly. Regardless, the kiwi does have a very small vestigial wing with a tiny cat-like claw on the end. This stumpy wing gave rise to the species’ name: ‘Apteryx’ meaning ‘wingless’.
Part of the ratite whānau
Kiwi are part of a group of largely flightless birds known as ratites. Ostriches, emu, and the extinct moa are also part of this group.
The kiwi is sometimes referred to as an honorary mammal because of its un-birdlike habits and physical characteristics.
The hidden bird of Tāne
In Māori tradition, all living things on Earth originate from the union of Rangi-nui (the Sky Father) and Papatūānuku (the Earth Mother).
Flightless ... but has wings
The kiwi is one of New Zealand's many flightless birds. They didn't need to fly because there weren't any land mammal predators before man arrived to New Zealand 1000 years ago.
Feathers like hair
Because kiwi do not fly, their feathers have evolved into a unique texture to suit a ground-based lifestyle.
An unusual beak
The kiwi has an extremely unusual beak. Not only does it provide a keen sense of smell, it also has sensory pits at the tip which allow the kiwi to sense prey moving underground.
In proportion to its body size, the female kiwi lays a bigger egg than almost any other bird. While a full term human baby is 5% of its mother's body weight, the kiwi egg takes up 20% of the mother's body.
Kiwi life cycle
Kiwi make their home in many different environments and have been described as 'breeding machines'. With the eradication of predators, the kiwi could be successful once again.
Being nocturnal, kiwi can be quite elusive but they do leave signs as to where they have been.
Bird of the night
Kiwi are nocturnal. Like many other New Zealand native animals, they are most active in the dark.
Kiwi call at night to mark their territory and stay in touch with their mate. The best time to listen for kiwi is on a moonless night, up to two hours after dark, and just before dawn.
What kiwi eat
Kiwi are omnivores. Their gizzards usually contain grit and small stones which help in the digestion process.
How kiwi came to Aotearoa
Just how did the kiwi journey to New Zealand? Three very different theories have been put forward to explain the mystery.
How kiwi evolved
It is thought that today’s kiwi evolved from one kiwi ancestor that lived about 50 million years ago: a proto-kiwi.
Kiwi experts are keen to dispel myths surrounding the kiwi - and there are quite a few!
Learn more about kiwi
All kiwi are the same, right? Wrong. There are actually five different species of kiwi, all with their own unique features.
Threats to kiwi
The national kiwi population is under attack from many different threats, including predators, loss of habitat, and fragmentation of species.
Where to see kiwi
Many facilities around New Zealand are home to kiwi, plus there are places where, if you're lucky, you could see one in the wild too.
How you can help
Many hands make light work. Keen to join the mission to save the kiwi? Here are some ways you can help.
For kiwi to thrive, we all need to work together. Find out what you can do to help save the kiwi, wherever in Aotearoa you happen to be.
To continuing saving the kiwi, conservation groups need funding. Support the mission by making a donation, setting up a fundraising project, or engaging with other fundraising initiatives.
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