John T. Willis

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Kiwi are birds endemic to New Zealand. They cannot fly. They are about the size of a domestic chicken and are by far the smallest living ratites and lay the largest egg in relation to their body size. They are five accepted species of kiwi, one of which has four sub-species. The genus is apteryx.

The largest species is the Great Spotted Kiwi or Roroa, which is approximately 18 inches high and weighs a little over seven pounds. It has grey-brown plumage with lighter bands. The female lays only one egg, which both parents incubate. The population is approximately 20,000 distributed through the more mountainous parts of northwest Nelson, the northern West Coast, and the Southern Alps. The very small Little Spotten Kiwi is endangered by pigs, stoats, and cats. Approximately 1350 individuals remain on Kapiti Island, but experts are trying to repopulate these birds in "Little Spots" on each island. This bird is the size of a bantam. It is almost ten inches tall, and weighs almost three pounds. The female lays one egg, and the male incubates it. The Tokoeka is relatively common from south and west parts of the South Island, and is approximately the same size as the Great Spotted Kiwi. Other species and sub-species are less prevalent. The rarest sub-species is the Haast Tokoeka, which has only approximately 300 individuals. The most plentiful species is the North Island Brown Kiwi, which has approximately 35,000 individuals.

The kiwi are the closest relatives of the Emu and the cassowaries. Some experts suggest this was imported from Australia. Kiwi are shy and usually are nocturnal. Kiwi have a highly developed sense of smell, unusual in a bird, and are the only birds with nostrils at the end of their long beak. Kiwi eat small invertebrates, seeds, grubs, worms, fruit, small crayfish, eels and amphibians. With their nostrils at the end of their long beaks, they can locate insects and worms underground without seeing or feeling them because of their keen sense of smell.

Kiwi are monogamous. During the mating season, June to March, the pair call to each other at night, and meet in the nesting burrow every three days. These relationships may last for 20 years. They are unique among other birds because they have a functioning pair of ovaries. Kiwi eggs can weigh up to one quarter the weight of the female. The egg is six times the size of a domestic chicken egg. Eggs are smooth in texture, and are ivory or greenish white. The incubation period is 63-92 days. For the 30 days it takes to grow the fully developed egg, the female must eat three times her normal amount of food. 2 or 3 days before the egg is laid, there is little space left inside the female for her stomach and she is forced to fast.

Kiwi have no keel on the breastbone to anchor wing muscles, and barely any wings. The vestiges are so small that they are invisible under the kiwi's bristly, hair-like, two-branches feathers. While birds usually have hollow bones to minimize weight and flight practicable, kiwi have marrow, in the style of mammals. The bill is long, pliable, and sensitive to the touch, and their eyes have a reduced pecten. Their feathers lack barbules, and aftershafts, and they have large vibrissae around the gape. They have 13 flight feathers, no tail, just a small pygostyle. Their gizzard is weak and their caecum is long and narrow.

"Kiwi" is a Maori word, attempting to imitate the call of the bird. The kiwi is the national symbol of New Zealand. Hence, there is a fruit called Kiwi, and the people of New Zealand call themselves Kiwi.

I hope YOU appreciate Kiwi. This is another creation of God. Above all, I hope YOU appreciate and honor and worship the Creator of all life. Share YOUR experiences and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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