Kiwi are a beloved symbol of Aotearoa New Zealand, characteristic of the uniquely understated qualities that contribute to the nation’s collective identity.
Also known as kiwi pukupuku, the little spotted kiwi is the smallest of five kiwi species. Despite their size, little spotted kiwi are fiercely territorial and will defend their turf, feathers flying, with their short and powerful legs and sharp claws. Their other distinguishing features include light-brown and grey plumage that is finely mottled or banded horizontally, and long white beaks.
During the day these nocturnal birds rest in burrows or hollows. After nightfall they emerge to feed, ambling along and tapping the ground to find earthworms, larvae, spiders, beetles and occasional fallen leaves and fruit. Although the male parents stay with the nests until the chicks are mature enough to leave, chicks are never fed by their parents. Instead, they are nourished by the large yolk sacs from their eggs until they leave the burrow to feed at around one week old.
The little spotted kiwi is the only recent species of kiwi to have become extinct on the New Zealand mainland. Without continued conservation efforts, all kiwi species could disappear from the wild in the mainland before the end of this century. Predation by introduced mammals is the biggest threat to kiwi, and although adults can defend themselves from all but dogs and ferrets, their chicks are incredibly vulnerable to stoats and cats. It is estimated that less than 8 percent of juvenile kiwi survive their first year.
For this reason, programmes like Operation Nest Egg focus on raising kiwi in captivity before releasing them when big enough to deal with stoats and cats. However, this is not the case for little spotted kiwi, whose population is estimated to be 2,000 and growing. This is because all the little spotted kiwi reside on predator-free islands and in fenced sanctuaries. The current population descends from a group of five birds that were introduced to Kāpiti Island in 1912. In fact, the Kāpiti sanctuary is so successful that birds are frequently moved to other locations because the population has reached capacity.