Kiwi species

All kiwi are the same, right? Wrong. There are actually five different species of kiwi, all with their own unique features.

Delving into kiwi DNA

For much of the last century, in the days before genetic research, kiwi were classified according to their body structure. Because scientists could only work from what they could see, up until the 1980s just three species of kiwi were formally recognised: the great spotted kiwi, the little spotted kiwi, and the brown kiwi.

Genetic research in the 1980s changed all of this. It allowed kiwi DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) to be studied. For the first time, scientists could read the ‘essence’ of kiwi, not just what the scientists’ eyes could see.

By comparing the DNA of different kiwi species, geneticists have been able to infer their evolutionary history, which it turns out is much more complex than suggested by studying their anatomy alone.

Kiwi DNA

From three to five species

This genetic research confirmed the great spotted and little spotted kiwi as separate species.

But it also split brown kiwi up into three distinct species: brown kiwi, rowi, and tokoeka.

Thanks to DNA, today five kiwi species are formally recognised.

And, with further genetic research under way, even more species and/or subspecies may be identified in the future, especially within the tokoeka.

In 2016, a paper published by a researcher from Toronto University and the Department of Conservation looked deeper into the different lineages of the five recognised species.

1. North Island brown kiwi

Population estimate: 24,550

Estimated 2030 population: 32,081

DOC threatened status: Not threatened (conservation dependent)

North Island brown kiwi are found in four distinct regions in the North Island: Northland, Coromandel, Eastern, and Western. They are known for their long noses, short tempers, and spiky brown plumage.


North Island Brown Kiwi
Great Spotted kiwi

2. Great spotted kiwi/roroa

Population estimate: 14,800

Estimated 2030 population: 12,428

DOC threatened status: Threatened (nationally vulnerable)

Great spotted kiwi/roroa are rugged mountaineers found in three discrete natural populations: northwest Nelson, the Paparoa Range, and near Arthur’s Pass.


3. Little spotted kiwi/kiwi pukupuku

Population estimate: 1,800

Estimated 2030 population: 2,867

DOC threatened status: Threatened (nationally increasing)

The little spotted kiwi is the smallest of the kiwi species. Their shaggy plumage is a pale mottled grey. Their total number is thought to be just over 1500 and growing.


Little Spotted kiwi

4. Rowi

Population estimate: 500

Estimated 2030 population: 891

DOC threatened status: Threatened (nationally endangered)

The rowi (Apteryx rowi) was only identified as a distinct kiwi species in 2003. Before then, it was thought to be a variety of brown kiwi. Rowi is the rarest species of kiwi.


5. Tokoeka

Population estimate: 25,900

Estimated 2030 population: 21,422

DOC threatened status: Threatened (nationally vulnerable)

Tokoeka (Apteryx australis) are thought to be the ancestral type of brown-coloured kiwi.



Learn more about kiwi

North Island Brown Kiwi

Kiwi species

All kiwi are the same, right? Wrong. There are actually five different species of kiwi, all with their own unique features.


Kiwi dog attack

Threats to kiwi

The national kiwi population is under attack from many different threats, including predators, loss of habitat, and fragmentation of species.


Givealittle Jeremy

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.

Protecting Kiwi – Koko

Protect kiwi

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.



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Awhina mai ki a hoki te kiwi ki te wao tapu nui a Tāne
Help return kiwi to where they used to live

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