Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria

Kiwi Fact Sheet

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The Special Kiwi Look
A nose at the end of the beak !  Most birds have their nostrils at the top of the beak by the head. The kiwi is the only bird with nostrils at the other end - this helps them find their food by both smell and touch. They can bury their bill completely into earth and still sniff out food. Special valves in the bill stop the dirt going up the nose. Excellent hearing ear openings are large and the kiwi can be seen cocking its head to hear soft or distant noises.

Photo: Kiwi chick, Auckland Zoo ©

Whiskers at the top of the bill are useful in detecting objects close at hand.

The Kiwi is named after the sound of its call.

One tough customer!
Kiwis are territorial and will fight to defend their territories. It uses its bill to hold on its opponent and its strong feet and claws to strike viciously. The feet and claws are covered with hard scales. Kiwis are very agile and fast moving. A bird's territory ((home area) might be as large as 60 rugby fields and it could cover that in one night.

Covering and Camouflage
Kiwis are covered soft downy feathers that are more like an animalís fur than bird's feathers. They help keep the bird warm while the outer feathers help to keep the bird dry. They act like tiles on a roof by helping the rain to slide off the bird.

The very large egg (up to a quarter of the hen's body weight) takes about 70 - 80 days to hatch. Sometimes two eggs are laid with about 22 days between each. The male incubates the eggs.

When the chick hatches, it lives off the remains of the yolk sac for the fist few days. After this it is capable of looking after itself in the bush but will not leave the nest for some time.

Photo: Kiwi chick emerging from egg, Auckland Zoo ©

Lives in damp dense native forests and shrubland.  The Kiwi is nocturnal  and sleeps during the day in burrows or hollow logs.

Kiwis are omnivorous - they eat insects, grubs, worms, berries fruit. They find their food by smell not sight.

Four species of kiwi . Two of these species contain two different sub-species:

1.  Brown Kiwi

a) North Island Brown Kiwi Apeteryx mantelli

  • Spiky brown plumage streaked with black and dark brown
  • Medium size found only in the upper two thirds of the North Island, New Zealand
  • Tough little birds to survive against humans and introduced predators
  • An estimated 35,000 birds remain.

b) Okarito Brown Kiwi Apteryx mantelli

  • Only identified as a distinct sub-species in 1993.
  • Found in lowland forest north of Franz Josef.
  • Close relative to N.I.Brown but slightly more greyish plumage
  • Sometimes accompanied by white facial feathers. Numbers around 140 birds.

2. Little Spotted Apteryx owenii

  • Mottled speckled brown plumage
  • Smallest of the kiwis and the most endangered . Now extinct on the mainland. A healthy group surviving on predator-free Kapiti Is.

3. Great Spotted Apteryx haastii

  • Similar to Little Spotted but with distinct chestnut tinge on back.
  • Largest of the kiwis Living in N.W. Nelson, the northern West Coast and the Southern Alps between Arthurís Pass at high altitude (New Zealand)
  • Such an environment is more difficult for predators. Estimated 10,000 pairs surviving.

4. Tokoeka

a) Haast Tokoeka Apteryx australis

  • Identified as a distinct sub-species in 1993.
  • Lives in the south-west of New Zealand.
  • Some of these kiwis spend the whole year in sub-alpine grasslands, even though most of area is snow-covered in winter.

b) Southern Tokoeka Apteryx australis

  • Squat and round and bigger than the NI.Brown they can grow almost as big as the Great Spotted Kiwi.
  • Southern Tokoeka live in Fiordland and on Stewart Island which has fewer predators.
  • There is estimated to be around 27,000 in the wild.

Preservation and Conservation:
According to IUCN criteria all six species of kiwi are threatened.

Okarito Brown and Haast Tokoeka are Critically Endangered (because they are numbered at less than 250 mature birds) and in decline. North Island Brown and Great Spotted Kiwi are Endangered.  Southern Tokoeka and Little Spotted Kiwi are regarded as Vulnerable.

All species are facing rapid decline primarily due to introduction of predators and destruction of forests and other habitat. Of the six taxa only the Little Spotted Kiwi is increasing following successful breeding in captivity and transfer to predator free off shore island.

Further information: Web site:

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This policy produced by the education group is a formulation of principles, guidelines and minimum standards for education for the many different sectors involved in zoos, parks and aquaria.

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