What are Kiwi?
The Kiwi family are the smallest of the ratite group of flightless birds which includes South American rheas, ostriches and emu, and used to include the extinct New Zealand giant Moa – the tallest bird ever to live.
Kiwi are endangered. Their numbers having shrunk from more than five million about seventy-five years ago to less than 100,000 today, partly because of habitat issues, more because of predators – in 1987 one dog killed 500 kiwi in the Waitangi forest.
There are four species of kiwi: Apteryx mantelli, Apteryx haastii, Apteryx owenii, and Apteryx australis. Within these species there are 6 identified varieties:
North Island Brown Kiwi
The national bird of New Zealand, the North Island Brown Kiwi is a long-billed, round, bad-tempered creature with spiky brown plumage. They are mostly nocturnal, though the deep shade of their natural habitat means that they can, in theory, be seen at almost any time
The North Island Brown Kiwi is now found only in the upper two-thirds of the North Island, where an estimated 35,000 remain. They are most widespread in Northland, where they can be found in a range of habitats, including rough farmland
Okarito Brown Kiwi
The Okarito Brown Kiwi was only recognised as a distinct variety in 1933. It is distinguished from its North Island cousin by a greyish tinge to its plumage, and occasionally also has white feathers on its face. It lives in lowland forest pf the Westland National Park, just North of the Franz Joseph glacier, and only 160 or so birds are known to survive on the mainland.
Great Spotted Kiwi
This is the largest of the kiwi family and lives on the South Island in north-western Nelson, the northern West Coast and between Arthur's Pass and Lake Sumner in the Southern Alps. It often lives at high altitudes.
The environment in which the Great Spotted lives is harsh, but, at the same time, natural predators are less abundant than in other parts of the island. It is estimated that there are more than 10,000 surviving pairs.
Little Spotted Kiwi
This is the smallest of the kiwi family, and the most endangered of the four species. It is about the size of a bantam and has a docile nature. Stoats, cats and larger predators have decimated the population so that the Little Spotted Kiwi is now extinct on the mainland. However, populations have been established on predator-free islands around the coast with the biggest – about 1,000 birds on Kapiti Island near Wellington. Other populations exist on Hen Island, Red Mercury Island and Tiritiri Matangi in the Hauraki Gulf and these have all grown in recent years.
The Haast Tokoeka was identified as a distinct variety in 1993 and surveys indicate that about 200-300 of these birds survive, living in south-west New Zealand, from sea level to high alpine basins.
It is thought that some of the variety live the entire year in snowy conditions, though others may retreat to lowland forest in winter.
Southern Tokoeka are round and squat and can growe almost as large as the Great Spotted Kiwi. They live live in Fjordland and on Stewart Island where fewer predators means that their numbers remain quite stable. There are about 27,000 Southern Tokoeka left in the wild.
The Kiwi Recovery Programme
All New Zeland’s native birds have suffered as a result of the introduction of predators such as stoats, dogs pigs and cats which came to the islands with first the Maori and later the European settlers, but kiwi, being flightless, have suffered even more than others.
Kiwi have been disappearing at a rate of 5.8% of population per annum, so The Department of Conservation and the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society launched the Kiwi Recovery Programme in 1991, with the assistance of corporate sponsor, The Bank of New Zealand.
The programme's long-term goal is: "To maintain and where possible enhance the current abundance, distribution and genetic diversity of kiwi."
It has three integrated aims essential to the long term goal of maintaining kiwi on the mainland:
The first phase of the programme, which ran until 1996, concentrated on understanding kiwi, and research – it was during this phase that the Haast Tokoeka variety was identified.
Operation Nest Egg concentrates on chick survival, protecting newly hatched kiwi from predators, and increasing the chances of a chick surviving from 5% to an incredible 85%.
The advocacy programme highlights what the community can do to help the survival of the kiwi, through information and education.
It is hoped that the Kiwi Recovery programme can prevent extinction of the New Zealand icon, for which the human population name themselves.
Maori legend of how the kiwi lost its wings.
One day, Tanemahuta, guardian of the forest noticed that his children the trees were starting to sicken, because they were being eaten by insects. He discussed this with his brother, Tanehokahoka, the guardian of the birds of the air, and Tanehokahoka called his children together so that Tanemahuta could speak to them.
Tanemahuta told the birds that he needed one of them to come down from their treetops and live on the forest floor, to eat the insects and protect his tree-children.
But not one bird volunteered.
So Tanehokahoka asked each bird in turn. He asked the Tui, but Tui was afraid of the dark. Pukeko didn’t want to get his feet damp, and Pipiwharauroa was too busy building his nest.
Tanehokahoka was saddened, because if no bird would agree to protect the children of Tanemahuta, then the birds themselves, the children of Tanehokahoka, would be homeless when the insects had eaten the trees.
At last Tanehokahoka turned to the Kiwi.
“E Kiwi,” he asked, “Will you come down from the treetops and live on the forest floor to protect the children of Tanemahuta?”
The kiwi looked at the sun filtering through the leaves, and at the dark, damp forest floor. He thought a while.
"I will," he said.
Tanehokahoka and Tanemahuta were overjoyed, for the selfless kiwi was giving them hope for the forests and the birds, but Tanemahuta was a fair creature, and he felt he should warn Kiwi of the consequences of his choice.
"E kiwi,” he said, “I must tell you that if you do this, you will need to grow thick, strong legs to rip the logs on the forest floor apart. Your fine coloured feathers and your wings will be lost to you, so that you will never be able to return to the treetops again. If you do this, you will always dwell in darkness away from the light of day. E kiwi, knowing all this, will you still come down and protect my children?”
Kiwi took a final look at the sun filtering through the leaves, at the other birds, their wings and their coloured feathers and to all these things he said a sad, silent goodbye. Then he turned to Tanehokahoka and Tanemahuta, and again said, "I will."
This agreed, Tanehokahoka dealt with the other birds. He told Tui that because he was afraid to come down into the dark he would wear the two white feathers of a coward at his throat forever. Pukeko, for his hatred of the damp, was doomed to walk in the swamps from that day forward, and Pipiwharauroa, who had been too concerned with his nest, Tanehokahoka decreed would ever after be a vagrant, laying his eggs in the nests of other birds.
But the noble Kiwi, he said, who sacrificed his way of living and his wings for the good of the forest, would be loved and revered for the rest of time.
Much info from: http://www.kiwirecovery.org.nz/