The Smallest Ratite: The Kiwi

As promised, here is the 5th ratite, which is a family of flightless birds.  Unlike the emu, ostrich, rhea, and cassowary, the kiwi is small.  Some are no bigger than a domestic chicken.  They are also endangered, so there are breeding programs and this site to help protect them:

Save the Kiwi

Only 5-10% of kiwi chicks survive into adulthood due to the introduction of predators such as dogs.  The biggest threat are stoats (type of weasel) because they go after the chicks, who won’t be too large for them until they are 1-1.5 years old.  Habitat destruction is another factor because it can lead to chicks getting killed in accidents.  It can also reduce the population to the point where incest begins.  All of this can lower a population’s chick survival to less than 5%.  This is why people are trying to take action, but it’s definitely an uphill battle.  Thankfully, there are a lot of protected areas since this is the symbol of New Zealand.  This makes the predators the bigger of the two threats.

So, what are kiwis?  They are small birds that can’t fly and are genetically closer to the extinct elephant bird than the moa.  This is odd because kiwis live in New Zealand like the moa while the elephant bird was from Malagasy. They are nocturnal, so they have very small eyes and depend very little on their sense of sight.  Kiwis work more off noise, scent, and touch, so blind ones function as well as others.

The strangest thing about kiwis is that their eggs can weight up to a quarter of its body mass.  This means it has the largest egg of all birds in terms of body/egg proportions.  A comparison I saw online was a human giving birth to a fully grown four-year-old.  This means they lay one egg at a time and around 6 per year.  It takes about 30 days for the female to lay the egg too.  Nobody is sure about this adaptation either.  The two theories I found are:

  • A holdover from when kiwis were larger.
  • The large egg means the chick is born with enough development to run away from aerial predators.  It has also eaten enough in the egg to survive for 1-2 weeks without needing much more food.  This doesn’t help against the introduced land predators, but it does allow them to hide from birds of prey for extended periods of time.

Let’s get to the fun pictures and videos.  We have 5 species and all of them are from New Zealand.

Great Spotted Kiwi

Little Spotted Kiwi

North Island Brown Kiwi

Okarito Brown Kiwi

Southern Brown Kiwi

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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18 Responses to The Smallest Ratite: The Kiwi

  1. noelleg44 says:

    They are super cute! What do they eat!


  2. Klausbernd says:

    Great text and pictures 👍 So cute this Kiwi
    Thanks for sharing
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂


  3. Such an interesting body shape.


  4. Terrific post, Charles. Gotta hope they can thrive.


  5. Chel Owens says:

    I always root for the endangered species. Such interesting facts.


  6. Introduced species are a big problem everywhere. They evolved to their environment, then that environment changed suddenly.


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