Ancient survivor and national symbol


NORTH ISLAND BROWN KIWI – Apteryx australis mantelli


The child of Tāne and Haere Awa Awa, Kiwi was often called te manu huna a Tane, the hidden bird of Tane, it is one of the oldest birds in the forest with a lineage that matches kauri. Once a friend and messenger of patupaiarehe, the mysterious people of the forest, kiwi became alienated from them when he became lazy while delivering messages.

It was common in Waipoua and throughout Te Tai Tokerau kauri forests until the 1970s. This  is the smallest of the three kiwi species and the most populous, although it is now considered threatened because of loss of habitat, predation and competition from introduced mammals, notably brush tailed possums.

Dark grey head and neck with dark grey streaked, brown body plumage, about 500 mm high with a long, slightly curved bill and powerful legs. Flightless and nocturnal, it feeds on insects and worms it hunts on the forest floor, where its particularly acute hearing allows it to identify and catch worms underground with its long bill.

In turn the kiwi was hunted for food by Maori using kuri, the Polynesian dog they brought across the Pacific during their migration. It tasted very gamey, but its flavour was valued, and its feathers were highly prized, being used for the prestigious kahu kiwi feather cloaks that were especially woven to cause the feathers to bristle outwards. Kiwi skins were also used in rare circumstances for weatherproof clothing.

Kiwi lay one or two eggs, rarely three, the largest of any bird by proportion of body weight and contain the largest yolks. The eggs are protected and incubated by the male. He takes over straight after the female has finished laying and the incubation period is up to 80 days long. It takes place in a nesting burrow made by the male and lined with plant material.

Chicks take up to a week to walk with any accomplishment, leaving the nest to forage at around 8 – 9 days old. By 12 months they have reached their adult weight and can live for over 20 years, if they are free from predation and the breathing diseases that their long bills and ground digging make them susceptible to.

Endemic to New Zealand they are a link with the ancient past.