- Status: Vulnerable
- Known as: Brown Kiwi, Common Kiwi.
- Estimated numbers left in the wild: 29,800 in two subspecies.
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The brown kiwi is a sturdy flightless bird covered in almost hair-like feathers, which lack the barbules found on most bird’s feathers. This gives these birds a decidedly shaggy look. The feathers are reddish-brown, though they are also streaked.
The kiwi has no tail and measures between 45 and 55 centimeters in length. Males are smaller than females, weighing 1.6 to 2.8 kilograms compared to the females’ 2.1 to 3.9 kilograms. The kiwi’s beak is long, slim, and curves slightly downwards.
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Kiwis are solitary birds most of the time, roosting in low vegetation and a species emerging at night to eat insects. Grubs and worms are found underground by smell – the kiwi’s nostrils are at the tip of its beak, allowing it to scent this quarry more easily.
Kiwis also eat many other things found in their habitat, however, including seeds and fruits. Crayfish, frogs, and eels are also taken when the opportunity offers. These shy birds may not have been nocturnal before the arrival of humans and the predators they introduced, though this is not certain.
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The kiwi is a very long-lived bird, and one generation may be anywhere from 30 to 50 years, though reproduction is now believed to be somewhat faster.
Kiwis are monogamous, and a male and female remain together for decades once bonded. They use their loud nocturnal calls to keep in touch and share a burrow periodically during the breeding season.
One huge egg that weighs 25% as much as the female is produced in each season. The male incubates this egg for up to 92 days, and the young kiwi is soon able to fend for itself after hatching, though it often stays near its parents until the next breeding season.
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New Zealand is the brown kiwi’s principal home, with an additional population on Stewart Island. The brown kiwi lives in various habitats, from coastal sand dunes to tussock grasslands, forest, and subalpine scrub.
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The overwhelmingly central source of danger to the brown kiwi today is the activity of introduced predators. Different predators present risks to different stages of the birds’ life cycle. Eggs are eaten by stoats and brush-tailed possums, while juveniles are preyed upon by cats.
Dogs and ferrets can kill adult birds and do so in those areas where they are present. Populations not exposed to these risks are more stable than those where predation is a risk.
Fortunately, the direct human activity itself is having little impact on the kiwi’s survival. Habitat loss has slowed to the point where it is not believed to present any hazard to these small, rotund birds. Humans seldom interact directly with the birds, and such encounters are likely to be peaceful.
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Government conservation efforts and non-profit organizations alike are being used to help preserve the brown kiwi for the future. Control and culling of predators are naturally central to most of these efforts.
Another conservation approach is Operation Nest Egg, which involves taking eggs and sub-adults out of the wild and keeping them until the kiwis are large enough to be safe from most of the introduced predators. This method seems to be paying dividends in a rising kiwi population in the Haast area.
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Kiwis for Kiwi
Kiwis for Kiwi is a newly founded fundraising and advocacy organization formed in October 2012 to support different kiwi conservation projects throughout New Zealand.
Whakatane Kiwi Trust
The Whakatane Kiwi Trust funds the Whakatane Kiwi Project in New Zealand to protect the Northern brown kiwi. Funding goes towards predator control, breeding programs, and awareness projects.