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About North Island brown kiwi

The kiwi is an ancient bird that has only ever been found in New Zealand.  Flightless, it spends its whole life on the ground and sleeps inside a burrow.  It has a plump body with no tail, miniscule wings with short claws at the tips, and a long sharp bill.  The kiwi is strong and can run fast; in fact, on flat ground a kiwi could outrun most humans! However, kiwi are not faster than dogs, which are the major predator of adult kiwi.

There are five main species of kiwi.  The North Island brown kiwi that live in Whakatāne are unique owing to a blonde tinge to the feathers on their heads, earning the nickname ‘blonde beach babes’.    North Island brown kiwi grow to about 40cm tall; the females weigh about 2.8kgs and the males 2.2kg.  That’s equivalent to a big bottle of Coca Cola!

Where do they live?

Kiwi live in indigenous forest, shrub lands, exotic forests and rough farmlands.  Kiwi are territorial, with each territory ‘owned’ by a male kiwi and its female mate.  They are feisty and often aggressive toward unwanted intruders, fighting off invaders with their claws. 

What do they eat?

Kiwi are omnivorous, meaning they eat a variety of plants and animals.  Using its long bill, a kiwi will probe the ground for insects, worms, spiders, grubs and berries.  Kiwi have an exceptional sense of smell and can detect their food through leaf litter, rotting logs and soft soil.  As kiwi are nocturnal (active during the night), they hunt in the dark and often travel one to two kilometres every night in search of food.

Breeding

Kiwi tend to mate for life, which may be up to 40 years.  The female is 20 to 30 percent bigger than the male and will lay eggs for the male to incubate.  The male is also tasked with preparing the nesting burrow.  He will use his strong legs and claws to dig a hole in the earth of a bank or slope, and then line it with a selection of soft leaves, grass and moss, finishing it off with a final layer of feathers.  In an attempt to camouflage the burrow from intruders and provide insulation against the cold, kiwi will often build leaves and sticks across the entrance to the nest.

North Island brown kiwi – quick facts

  • They sleep in holes, under vegetation and root systems. These holes are sometimes two metres deep!
  • They move between burrows most nights, unless they are nesting.
  • Chicks hatch as miniature kiwi and are not fed by their parents.
  • Chicks fend for themselves once they leave the nest, which can be less than a week after hatching.
  • Juvenile kiwi will wander alone through the bush until they find a mate and territory. This can sometimes take years.
  • They can live up to 50 years.

Take a moment to appreciate the female kiwi – she lays eggs that are about one-fifth of her own body weight!  She can lay up to 100 eggs in her lifetime.  Some would say the male has the easy job, as it is his role to incubate the eggs, which takes about three months.

Read more about the lifecycle of the North Island brown kiwi.