Types of Kiwis
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5 Types of Kiwi Birds: Facts and Photos

If you didn’t know, the kiwi fruit gets its name from the Kiwi bird, a flightless bird native to New Zealand. With only five species, they still display diversity in characteristics, habitats, and behaviors. Read on to explore all types of kiwis (the birds, not the fruits).

General Information about Kiwis

The Kiwi bird features small, round-shaped bodies, elongated beaks, and hair-like feathers. Despite their inability to fly, these birds have adapted well to their surroundings. 

Uniquely, they are the world’s only bird with beak nostrils, which helps them sniff out their prey. Likewise, they look furry because kiwi feathers are long, thin, and hair-like. 

Kiwis are flightless birds from the Apteryx genus under the infraclass Palaeognathae, alongside ostriches, emus, and cassowaries. There are five kiwi species, all residing in New Zealand.

However, kiwi populations are declining due to habitat loss and predation by invasive species, like stoats, cats, ferrets, and dogs. In a study, predators were recorded to have caused at least 8% of kiwi chick deaths, 45% of juvenile deaths, and around 60% of young kiwi deaths.

Sadly, only 10% of young kiwi chicks survive until six months. Since they have evolved without predators, they have no natural defense mechanisms to protect themselves. 

The IUCN has classified four kiwi species as vulnerable, while the Little Spotted Kiwi only received the Near Threatened status.

Read more: Kiwi Facts.

5 Types of Kiwis and Kiwi Species

1. North Island Brown Kiwi (Apteryx mantelli)

North Island Brown Kiwi
Photo by Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

The North Island Brown Kiwi is a flightless bird native to the lush areas of New Zealand's North Island. Despite being the most populous kiwi species in the region, it faces habitat loss and invasive predators. 

It searches for earthworms, beetles, and spiders on the ground using its long beak, which makes up about a third of its body length. Its beak is also a sensory organ that can detect the slightest movements of hidden prey. 

During the day, the kiwi hides in burrows, hollow logs, or under thick vegetation to avoid predators. It emerges to forage for food at night, including seeds and fallen fruit.

Interestingly, the male North Island Brown Kiwi takes on the role of incubating the eggs. This behavior is not typical in the bird kingdom.

From its previous status of endangered species, the IUCN declared them as vulnerable in their latest assessment in 20171. Predation controls are working; however, the declining population still continues.

2. South Island Brown Kiwi (Apteryx australis)

South Island Brown Kiwi
Photo by Glen Fergus on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 (Cropped from original).

The South Island Brown Kiwi, or Southern Brown Kiwi, is native to the dense forests of New Zealand's southern region. This bird has a brown cloak of feathers that blends well with its surroundings.

It is a nocturnal creature with poor eyesight and relies heavily on its sense of smell to find food, such as earthworms, beetles, and spiders. 

The South Island Brown Kiwi holds the record for the longest egg in proportion to the body size of any bird globally. For one, its egg measures up to 20% of its body weight. 

Moreover, the male South Island Brown Kiwi is the primary caregiver, incubating one or two large kiwi eggs until they hatch. The bird's song has a unique melody. This high-pitched whistle ascends before descending into a series of lower notes. 

The latest IUCN reports still categorize them as a vulnerable species. Predation led to a reduction in the population rate2, surpassing 30% over the past three generations.

3. Rowi Kiwi (Apteryx rowi)

Rowi Kiwi
Photo by mark2-nz on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Rowi kiwi, or Okarito brown kiwi, is the rarest Kiwi species in the world, with only approximately 400 individuals remaining in the wild. 

It lives in the Okarito forest on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island. Moreover, its grey plumage and white facial feathers are its distinctive features. It moves around at night. 

During the mating season, the pairs come together and lay one to two eggs, which both the male and the female incubate. The Rowi Kiwi's call is a high-pitched whistle that echoes through the wilderness.

Even though they still have a vulnerable IUCN status, the latest reports shared the good news of the upward population trend. This good news is thanks to the intensive conservation efforts such as Operation Nest Egg.

4. Great Spotted Kiwi / Roroa (Apteryx haastii)

The Great Spotted Kiwi, also known as Roroa, is a flightless bird native to the high-altitude scrublands of New Zealand's South Island. It is as big as a domestic chicken and uses its beak to dig into the earth for insects and other small creatures. 

Likewise, it prefers to be alone but becomes more social during mating season. The female lays one of the largest eggs relative to the body size of any bird species, and the male takes over incubation for up to 80 days. 

The male Roroa is a dedicated father to its kiwi chicks and protector of his territory, communicating with other Kiwis using its voice. During the mating season, the male takes on the role of incubation and protection.

Unfortunately, the latest IUCN reported these vulnerable kiwi species3 have experienced a 30% decline in population for the past three generations.

5. Little Spotted Kiwi (Apteryx owenii)

Little Spotted Kiwi
Photo by Judi Lapsley Miller on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Little Spotted Kiwi is the smallest kiwi species, weighing up to 3 pounds for males and 4.25 pounds for females. They have a soft, speckled grey-brown plumage, distinguishing them from larger kiwi species. 

These birds were once widespread in their native New Zealand. However, the introduction of predators has forced the birds to retreat to offshore predator-free islands and sanctuaries on the mainland. 

Little Spotted Kiwis are nocturnal, living in intricate burrow systems passed down through generations. They are social creatures and often pair for life. During the breeding season, the female lays just one egg, which both parents incubate. 

The Little Spotted Kiwi feeds on small invertebrates, seeds, grubs, and worms, using its keen eyesight and hearing to locate its food. 

Conclusion: Types of Kiwi Bird

Kiwis are nocturnal flightless creatures beloved as New Zealand’s national bird. Despite their size, they still play a vital role in the planet's ecological balance. However, they face challenges such as habitat destruction and predation due to the lack of strong defense mechanisms. 

Efforts to conserve kiwis are underway, but their success depends on continued support and commitment. Let’s get involved with their preservation by sharing knowledge like this short article about all five species of kiwis.

1

BirdLife International. (2017). Apteryx mantelli. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T45353580A119177586. 

2

BirdLife International. (2022). Apteryx australis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2022: e.T22678122A214272214. 

3

BirdLife International. (2022). Apteryx haastii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2022: e.T22678132A214091794.

By Mike Gomez, BA.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Photo by Kimberley Collins on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).
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