We all know it’s important to have iron in our diet. But sometimes kiwi take that a bit too literally! Luckily, ‘The Ernie’ is helping out with that.

Kiwi have a diverse diet. They eat everything from worms and seeds, to fungi and even frogs. To help them digest their food, they also pick up small stones and grit, which sit in their gizzard to grind up food. Unfortunately, kiwi are attracted to metal too, due to the magnetic field that surrounds it, and that can be fatal if ingested.

Bev Wilkinson is the kiwi husbandry manager at Kiwis for kiwi’s Napier kiwi crèche and has worked at kiwi hatching and rearing facilities for many years, including the National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua. She says that trying to ensure that the pens that young kiwi use are free from metal was an exhausting and frustrating task. Staff would have to use a metal detector, then dig the earth and sift through it carefully to try to find the small pieces of metal.

While talking through the frustrations and difficulties in trying to clear kiwi pens of metal in this way, a colleague of Bev’s said something that sparked an idea: “It would be good to have magnets on a spade!”

Bev knew the perfect man for the job of inventing such a contraption: her Dad, Ernie Skudder. At 84, Ernie has been retired for a few years, but this doesn’t mean that he’s sat with his feet up. If you call in to visit, you’ll almost certainly find Ernie tinkering in his workshop.

Ernie was an engineer during his working life, known as the ‘Master of Track’ for his decades-long work with the track used on heavy machinery. He’s also the go-to man for friends and family when they have something that needs to be fixed or, in Bev’s case, invented.

Having got the brief from Bev, Ernie set about doing what he does best: working out the solution. The biggest obstacle was finding magnets strong enough to be effective. Once he’d found these, they were screwed onto a small spade and sent to Bev at Westshore for testing.

‘The Ernie’, as it is affectionately known, was a resounding success. As Bev explains, “it has helped make what was a really tedious job much more rewarding. Using ‘The Ernie’ actually makes searching for these dangerous splinters of metal exciting! It’s quick, efficient, and does the job really well”.

But, of course, a man like Ernie is never going to be satisfied with the first version of his invention, and the original ‘Ernie’ has since been adapted and improved upon. ‘The Ernie Mark 2’ has already been completed, and a bigger version is being worked on. Word has spread and ‘Ernies’ are now being used at kiwi facilities across the country, keeping precious kiwi chicks safe and healthy.

Conservation work relies on the generosity, passion and smart thinking of Kiwis across the country and we are so grateful to the thousands of volunteers like Ernie who dedicate their time and effort to helping protect our native species.

Kia ora Ernie, and thanks for your brilliant work to help keep kiwi safe.