15 Crazy Facts About Kiwi Birds
Kiwi fruit are tasty, but you don't want to eat this kind of kiwi. Kiwi birds look a lot like the fruit with their soft, fluffy feathers, but they're meant for hugging, not eating.
Before you quench your craving for a fresh kiwi, get to know New Zealand's favorite bird below.
Kiwi Birds Are Native to New Zealand
This should come as no surprise, but kiwi birds are from New Zealand. The bird is New Zealand's national bird, and the people of New Zealand have been called kiwis for over a century.
It started during World War I when Australian soldiers gave New Zealanders the fun nickname. The name stuck, and New Zealand remains dedicated to the conservation of its namesake.
There Are Several Kiwi Species
Just like there are different varieties of kiwi fruit, there are different kinds of kiwi bird. There are five species, in fact, including:
- The great spotted kiwi (Apteryx haastii)
- The little spotted kiwi (Apteryx owenii)
- The Okarito brown kiwi (Apteryx rowi)
- The Southern brown kiwi or Tokoeka (Apteryx australis)
- North Island brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli)
The great spotted kiwi is the largest, and the little spotted kiwi is the smallest. All of them are exclusively found in New Zealand because, unlike most birds, migrating to different parts of the world is extremely difficult for kiwi. Instead, they're content to roam the leafy forest floor of their homeland.
Kiwi Are About the Size of a Chicken
Kiwi don't resemble hens in the slightest, but they're roughly the size of an average domestic chicken. The largest kiwi can weigh up to 7 pounds and reach a height of 20 inches, while the smallest is only about 2 pounds and reaches a diminutive 11 inches.
They may be the same size as chickens, but they're much cuter.
Kiwi Birds Have Huge Eggs
Moms, thank your lucky stars that you're not a kiwi. Kiwi lay the largest eggs in comparison to their own size of any bird species. For comparison, an ostrich egg weighs about 2 percent of an ostrich, while a kiwi egg can weigh more than 15 percent of a female kiwi.
That would be like a woman weighing 130 pounds giving birth to a 19.5-pound newborn. Shudder. Luckily, female kiwi do grow larger than males, so that helps a little.
They Mate for Life
In addition to their endearing level of fluff, kiwi are pretty romantic. They're far more committed than the average Tinder date, and most of them are monogamous. Male kiwis reach sexual maturity before the age of 2, while females mature by the age of 3 or 4.
At that point, they're ready to find a mate, who they'll likely stay with for the rest of their lives, which averages between 30 and 40 years. Females usually lay just one egg per year, but occasionally they'll lay two or three at the same time. From there, it takes up to three months for the egg to hatch.
Male Kiwi Birds Are Great Dads
Since mom has to lay an insanely large egg, dad shows his gratitude by keeping the egg warm until it hatches. The incubation process takes anywhere from 74 to 90 days, which is over double that of most birds.
That's some serious dedication for a dude with a brain the size of a peanut.
Kiwi Are Omnivorous
Kiwi birds don't start eating right away. Initially, kiwi chicks have big, swollen bellies filled with yolk from their egg. It takes a few days for them to digest it.
After that, they instinctively begin foraging for worms, insects, invertebrates, seeds, berries and plant material. Parents don't teach their young how to hunt. They know how to do it all on their own thanks to evolution.
And They're Mostly Nocturnal
Would you guess kiwi are nocturnal? Most nocturnal creatures have big eyes capable of dilating to let in the most possible light in dim evening conditions. Kiwi, on the other hand, have tiny eyes, but they have no trouble finding their way around.
Instead of having built-in night vision goggles, they have a keen sense of smell. The part of their brain that processes scent is larger than usual, more like that of a mammal than that of most birds. They use their sense of smell, hearing and touch to navigate in the dark, expertly catching tasty grub and nibbling on fallen fruit.
They Have Great Hearing
Their smellers are great, but kiwi ears are just as exceptional. They have giant ear openings to magnify sounds and have better hearing than most birds.
Their sensitive bill also does some of the heavy lifting, rooting through leaf litter and soil to find food.
Kiwi Birds Have Wings, but They Can't Fly
Poor things. Imagine being a bird that can't fly. What's even the point of calling yourself a bird? New Zealand is home to many flightless birds because, before humans arrived, there were no land animals to prey on them. Kiwi are the smallest among the flightless birds of New Zealand. They were hunted by large birds of prey, like eagles and owls, but they were mostly safe on the ground.
Their walking habit is also much more energy efficient than flying. Kiwi birds do have a pair of tiny vestigial wings under their thick, fluffy feathers, but they don't function. They lack the keel, which is an extension of the sternum that helps most birds fly by giving something for their wing muscles to anchor onto. They're also missing a tail. No shaking of tail feathers there. Sorry, kiwi. You'll have to find another way to party.
Kiwi Have Odd Noses
Do birds have nostrils? Most of us have never gotten up close enough with a bird to tell, but the majority actually don't. Kiwi birds are the only birds in the world with nostrils at the tip of their beak.
For the most part, it's helpful. They can sniff out food in the leaf litter, which is obviously a top priority when you're a hungry, wingless pom pom. Unfortunately, this also means they're prone to getting dust and dirt in their "nose" during the process.
They Also Have Weird Bones for a Bird
Most birds have hollow bones, which is why it's possible for them to fly. Just think of how hard it is to do a pull-up. It would be easier if you were lighter, right? Flying is even harder with dense bones than doing run-of-the-mill calisthenics, so birds usually lack bone marrow.
Kiwis, however, have bone marrow like a mammal. They're not as light as other birds, but they are much sturdier and better suited to life on the ground.
They Have Whiskers Like a Cat
The kiwi's unusual feathers are its most notable feature. They're thick and shaggy, more like hair than feathers.
These eccentric birds seem more like mammal hybrids than real birds. They even have fine, sensitive whiskers around the bottom of their beak to help them navigate on after-dark quests for midnight snacks.
They Sleep in Burrows
Since kiwi birds can't fly, building a nest in a tree isn't an option. Instead, they dig burrows with their large, muscular feet.
They rest in their burrows all day and venture out at night to forage. They usually live in damp forests or near beaches where the soil is easy to dig into.
A Kiwi Is Faster Than You Are
Kiwi birds may look like decorative throw pillows from Homegoods, but they're much more athletic than they appear. Under all the shaggy feathers are extremely strong legs. They run around 12 mph, or about the speed of a recreational sprinter. They also use their legs for self-defense, using sharp claws at the end for kicking and scratching.
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