New Zealand’s national bird cannot fly

Did 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 its 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  and others who call our kiwifruit – ‘kiwi’ – the correct name is kiwifruit!)kiwifruit

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 Māori arrived some one-thousand years ago, bringing the kiore,(a Pacific rat).  Pakeha (European settlers) arrive some eight hundred years later and brought rabbits, possums, deer, stoat and many other animals.

Before that, with no predators, it seems the birds had no need to fly and so lost the ability.

Introduced animals have devastated these birds and their habitat since their introduction.

KIWI

Despite being raised to virtual icon status in its 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 make sure of 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.

Kiwi at Wellington Zoo
Kiwi at Wellington Zoo

Mating for life the female lays a huge egg, about 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 amazing 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.  We human kiwi are hopeful that we can save the mainland populations of their namesake.   We want our 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.

Some fact about NZ birds

We have:

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, sparrows, geese as examples

See more in Birds of New Zealand (Colins Traveller’s Guide)  by Julian Fitter and Don Merton ( Haper Colins) ISBN 978 1 86950 851 7

 

 

watch carefully for kiwi - especially at night
watch carefully for kiwi – especially at night

The most famous one-legged kiwi in the world!

News flash read here: the new zoo hospital “The Nest” has opened.
You can  watch the animals being treated
“Send yourself to Wellington’ the advert said, so I have. The weather’s wonderful, the food fantastic and the atmosphere alluring; what more could you want?

A day at Te Papa is a must: after some twenty visits there I still find plenty of new things to tempt me. The virtual bungee made me scream – I could not convince my brain I was not teetering on the brink of a platform, tied to a rubber band and planning to jump into thin air, many, many metres above a river.

Naturally, the theatre is a must too and Downstage and Circa always have a production well-worth seeing: as a passionate nomad, travelling alone, I often get the very last seat so suggest you always try to see some local theatre wherever you are.  The vibrant waterfront, the City Gallery and other art spaces around this vibrant city are also ‘must-do’ activities.

web zoo

But enough of the arts, how about getting out in the fresh air – and sometimes the term takes on a whole new meaning in this city of dramatic weather: although its often called ‘windy Wellington’ I like the other saying – ‘you can’t beat Wellington in a good day.’  This is so true and I’ve found it has many, many ‘good days’. Today, we are off to the zoo!

A distinctly NZ sign for the toilet
A distinctly NZ sign for the toilet

We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo, how about you, you, you, we’re going to the zoo” I sing (not melodiously I must confess) and, recalling childhood songs, my adult children join in while my ten-year-old grandson raises his eyebrows!

My first visit to a zoo was as a preschooler and where a hippo impressed me greatly – no wonder I loved them on later travels – and still today I have that frisson of excitement about seeing animals, both native and exotic, up close.

Wellington Zoo say they are ‘the best little zoo in the world” and is open every day except Christmas Day: New Zealand’s first Zoo, it was established in 1906 and the gift of a young lion – called  “King Dick”  after Prime Minister Richard Seddon –  was officially the Zoo’s first animal and by 1912 it housed over 500 animals.

people start to gather for close encounters
people start to gather for close encounters

The zoos history shows it has had many interesting and quirky characters including: Percy the pelican came to the Zoo in 1919 and made it into the Guinness book of records as one of the longest living birds in the world, making it to 62 years old; a grey gibbon named Nippy was the Zoo’s longest serving resident, and the oldest gibbon in the world; and in 1999, the Zoo was home to a cheeky little otter named Clyde. Clyde was very good at escaping and one day decided he would leave the Zoo and explore the nearby suburb of Newtown. He was later moved to a secure enclosure at Mogo Zoo in Australia.

turf flys towards me and my camera
turf flys towards me and my camera

No-one escaped the day we were there but we did see an otter playing with a coin that some stupid person had dangerously thrown into the enclosure (naturally we reported it to a keeper)

distinctly nz signOur highlights included (but not only!) the noisy, argumentative, chimpanzees – including one who delighted in throwing clumps of turf at us!

We also loved Tahi, a kiwi that had been injured in a gin trap.Tahu - world famous!

Although treated at the Whangarei Bird Recovery Centre and Massey University Wildlife Ward he eventually had to have his leg amputated: after his leg healed, and with his chances of survival in the wild being zero, he went to live at Wellington Zoo as an advocate for his species.

The zoo investigated having a prosthetic leg made for him and Weta Workshop (of Lord of the Rings fame)  along with the New Zealand Artificial Limb Centre made him a prosthesis – he learnt to walk with it but it soon became apparent to his keepers that he was more comfortable without it.
Now, Tahi is the most famous one-legged kiwi in the world, he has had a book written about him (Tahi: One Lucky Kiwi) and he has appeared on television and in magazines all over the world.

African dog
African dog

Wellington Zoo has around 500 animals comprising over 100 species: and to be able to see the city right on the doorstep is one of its charms – I would love to live nearby and hear the animals and birds roaring, calling, tweeting. (you can have a zoo sleepover and really be part of the zoo!)

Some of the residents are critically endangered – Sumatran tigers or Campbell Island teals – and others are unique in New Zealand to Wellington Zoo (the Malayan sun bears and White cheeked gibbons).big cats web

We were able to get up-close to big cats and giraffes as part of a Close Encounter, and learnt about favourite animals at one of our daily talks. Having been fortunate enough to have seen them in the wild, I especially loved watching the endangered African dogs tearing their food apart.

For visitors to Wellington: the zoo is easy to get to on bus routes #10 and #23

More info here and here

new zealand birds

Black-backed gull on Matu Somes Island in Wellington Harbour
Black-backed gull on Matu Somes Island in Wellington Harbour

I have just posted  a blog about New Zealand birds .

Listen to them, just as I do every morning  on Radio New Zealnd National ( 7am & 9am)

You dont have to be a twitcher to enjoy the sounds of them .

watch out for our nocturnal, flightless kiwi
watch out for our nocturnal, flightless kiwi