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Birds that can’t fly!

January 13, 2009

Road sign - southern North IslandDid you know New Zealand’s national bird cannot fly?

Endemic to these South Pacific Islands the kiwi is unique among birds; no tail, the mere trace of wings and nostrils near the tip of it’s long flexible beak. Add nocturnal behaviour, whiskers, poor eyesight and hairlike feathers – it is not surprising that visitors to these south pacific islands are amused to find New Zealanders calling themselves Kiwi. (especially Americans who call our kiwifruit – ‘kiwi’)

Ratite’s, the family to which the kiwi belongs, evolved on Gondwanaland. This southern super continent ( Jurassic period, 150 million years ago) split into what eventually became South America, Africa, Antarctica, Madagascar, India, Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand finally separated 85 million years and the flightless birds developed.

As well as the kiwi New Zealand has other flightless birds, all of which are in danger of extinction. Apart from two bats, New Zealand had no terrestrial mammals until the Maori arrived some one-thousand years ago, bringing the kiore,(a Pacific rat) and the Pakeha ( European) some eight hundred years later, who brought rabbits, possums, deer, stoat and many other animals. Before that, with no predators, it appears the birds had no need to fly and so lost the ability.

Introduced animals have been devastating these birds and their habitat since their introduction.

KIWI

Despite being elevated to virtual icon status in it’s home country, the kiwi is a strange bird. Both male and female will fiercely defend their territory against other kiwi. They live in burrows and rotate the use of them to ensure a wide territorial presence. Kiwi feed mainly on earthworms and a variety of invertebrates such as slugs snails spiders and insects and occasionally have been seen wading in streams for larger prey such as frogs and freshwater crayfish. (koura)

Size varies according to the species, ranging from the little spotted kiwi weighing in at a mere 1150 grams to the great spotted kiwi which is twice that size. Females are usually the larger of the pair by as much as a kilo.

Mating for life the female lays a huge egg, approximately 20% of her body weight, then promptly leaves it for the male to incubate over the next eighty days. After three weeks this baby bird, a miniature of its parents, leaves the safety of the burrow to fend for itself. The small chick is extremely vulnerable to introduced animals and during its’ first year their mortality rate is high despite strong legs and razor sharp claws for defence.

Kiwi have shown considerable resilience in the face of habitat destruction by logging, pasture development and trees destroyed by possum as well as predation by stoats, dogs and other introduced animals. Human kiwi are hopeful that they can save the mainland populations of their namesake; that the bush will continue to hear the hedgehog-like snuffling as they search for food and the hoarse guttural sounds of the female as she calls to her mate.Kiwi - native to New Zeaalnd onlyPhoto from Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. Christchurch NZ

Some fact re NZ birds – We have approximately:

100 endemic (New Zealand only) birds

83 native birds we share with other counties

139 migrants who have found their way here, and

43 introduced birds – such as swans, starlings, geese etc

A few ( of many) other blogs re NZ birds by the kiwitravelwriter

World’s first inner city pest-free environment http://wp.me/pc3Zw-pp

Most famous one-legged kiwi! http://wp.me/pc3Zw-qi

Captain Cook called these duck the painted duck http://wp.me/pc3Zw-q8

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