Kiwis (The birds, not the people)

From Tortoise orgies to custom made giraffe barns, the Great Kiwi Roadtrip makes it’s way to the Auckland Zoo!

One of the things that we absolutely had to see in New Zealand was an actual live kiwi

(Finally: the bird, not to be confused with the people by the same name)

Being as we were road tripping the length of the country these birds call home, we thought this was going to be relatively easy.  Turns out that it’s not…

In addition to being nocturnal animals, kiwis are also endangered.  They are smallish land bound birds (roughly the size and shape of a rugby ball, but with feathers).  New Zealand was initially only inhabited by flying creatures and some reptiles, which is why almost all of its native animals are birds.  In fact, the only native mammal is a bat, and the native predators were some lizards and an eagle.

(a huge 35lbs eagle that could take out a human.)

It’s also why birds ruled New Zealand and as such they evolved to fill all the gaps in the ecosystem that were typically held by other species.  This led to New Zealand not only having an ecosystem unlike anywhere else in the world but also an animal kingdom pecking order made up of creatures that could not be found anywhere else on the planet.

For example, what happens when you don’t have enough large animals?  Well, you get a Moa, the Kiwi’s 500lbs bigger brother. (now extinct unfortunately)

As you would expect in such an avian-friendly place, not all of the native animals are very good at defending themselves.  When the Europeans moved in and introduced stoats, cats and dogs, baby kiwis became a very easy-to-get snack.  The adult birds have long legs and with sharp claws and can kick at a predator, but the babies are kept in underground burrows and are defenseless.  This wouldn’t be big problem if kiwis reproduced like other burrowing animals (that is to say, with frequent and large litters), but kiwis only produce one egg at a time, and that one egg takes a very long time to mature.   This means that as a species they are much easier to kill off than, say, rabbits.

Why only one at a time you might ask?  Because that single egg takes upto 25% of the females’ body weight before being laid.  Yeah, ladies, imagine giving birth to a 35lbs+ kid and someone asking you why you didn’t pop out twins.

The New Zealanders have dedicated a small island to rehabilitating kiwis and have reintroduced them to the main North and South islands.  Unfortunately, there still aren’t very many of them and you need to go on a night time hike to maybe but probably not see them.  Greg’s mom wasn’t really down with that, but we really wanted to see them so we went to the Auckland zoo’s Kiwi House!  It’s set up so that the kiwis get bright lights in their house at night and a dim red lamp during the day so that the zoo’s visitors get to see them when they are active at “night” (behind soundproof glass so the kiddos don’t scare them off).

It was pretty cool watching these guys bob around looking for their dinner!

Dude these birds are so freaking cool!  They have ovaries, their noses are on the end of their beaks, they mate for life…check the wiki out for all the coolness of this national icon.

For more on the many unique birds of New Zealand, check out the only accessible albatross colony in the world!


About the authors

Greg and Tiffany are traveling around the world on sailing yachts and keep a video blog of their (mis)adventures.  If sailing to Tahiti on a 44 ft sailboat, 3-day delays for wine tastings, getting pooped on by seagulls, opening coconuts with dull machetes, sailing past tornadoes and ukulele Christmas carols are for you, then check them out at!


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7 Responses to Kiwis (The birds, not the people)

  1. hnorte says:

    For a quick wine tasting trip at 10:00 a.m. on the way out of town that stop, which turned into a couple of hours, was while worth it to see that crab and taste the wine. Remember we almost didn’t get in because the guy wasn’t sure he was coming in that day – lucky us – great wine and stop!!!!!!!

  2. Johnny says:

    You had me at Tortoise orgies! hahah. What was your favorite part of New Zealand, and which do you like better NZ or Australia?

  3. Ashley says:

    Wow, I’m very glad I’m not a Kiwi! 35+ pounds!? No thanks! 6 lb. 14 oz. was good enough for me! :) Sounds like you guys are having an amazing adventure. Miss you both!!!!!!!

    • Greg says:

      Yes, as a new mom we thought that part of the Kiwi life cycle would be of particular interest to you 😉

      We miss you & Chris as well. Let him know I am showing my appreciation for the liberty he provides the best way I know how: by using as much of it as I possibly can.

  4. Erica says:

    Just saw a recent documentary on these birds. REALLY FASCINATING.

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