New Zealand is a small country off the southeast coast of Australia. It is sometimes referred to as the “Seabird Capital of the World” due to the diversity of seabirds that inhabit the coastlines of New Zealand. Seabirds in New Zealand include penguins, sooty, terns, albatross, gannets and petrels. But there are plenty of fascinating inland birds in New Zealand as well like fantails (just look at their tail and you’ll see where they get their name), kakapos (flightless parrots) and the colorful New Zealand parakeet. With so many magnificent birds how does a country choose just one to represent the country? Read on to find out all about the national bird of New Zealand!
What is the National Bird of New Zealand?
The national bird of New Zealand is the kiwi. The long beaked, fluffy kiwi has been a national symbol for generations of New Zealand people. These flightless birds are native to New Zealand and have some unique features that distinguish them from other animals. These birds have wings but they are not for flight, they are tucked under their bodies. Similar to ostriches and emus they lack a breastbone which is required for strong chest muscles to attach to assist in flight. They have thick, muscular legs with sharp claws on the end which they can use in defense if needed. Their long skinny beak has nostrils at the very end vs. nearest the face. Their beaks can get to be 6 inches long or more!
Where Does the Kiwi Live?
Kiwi live in the forest and wetlands with protection of surrounding trees. They were once located all over New Zealand but are now found in pockets across the country including finding refuge on some of the smaller islands off the coast. There are 5 species of kiwi that live in New Zealand, each with a separate range with some species thriving and others needing conservational efforts to help maintain their numbers.
What are the 5 Species of Kiwi in New Zealand?
- Brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli): These are the most common kiwi but still need help to protect their populations. They live on the North Island and are divided into four groups of the Northland, Coromandel, Western and Eastern.
- Little spotted kiwi (Apteryx oweni): The smallest of the kiwi species these are located on Kapiti Island. They have also been introduced on seven predator free islands to encourage their population growth and on 3 sanctuaries on the mainland.
- Great spotted kiwi (Apteryx haasti): These are the largest of the kiwi species and are found on the South Island , especially in some of the national parks. There are four distinct populations left with some living at high altitudes.
- Okarito brown kiwi (Apteryx rowi): Also called the Rowi kiwi, these kiwi are listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN with an estimated population of 350-400 in August of 2020. The main threats to this species was habitat loss and introduced mammals, like stoats, that are a huge threat to all kiwi. Stoats are weasel-like animals that steal the kiwi’s eggs.
- Tokoeka kiwi (Apteryx australis): One of the unique characteristics of the Rakiura (Stewart Island) kiwi, one of the three populations of Tokoeka kiwi is that they are awake during the day and seem to live in a group with one alpha male/female couple being the leader. The Fiordland, another Tokoeka subgroup, also seem to live in family groups as well.
Is the Kiwi Featured on the New Zealand Flag?
No. The kiwi is not on the New Zealand flag. The flag is royal blue with the Union Jack in the upper left corner. There are four, five-pointed red stars that represent the Southern Cross. The flag looks very similar to the Australian flag and there is some debate over who officially declared their flag as the national flag first.
Is the Kiwi Featured on the New Zealand Currency?
Yes! In fact the dollar is often called the Kiwi dollar or just Kiwi. The Kiwi dollar coin has an image of the kiwi on the back.
What Other Birds are Featured on New Zealand Currency?
The prominent banknotes of New Zealand feature famous people on the right and a New Zealand bird on the left. Following are the birds featured on New Zealand currency:
- $5 Note: Hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin)
- $10 Note: Whio (“blue duck”)
- $20 Note: Kārearea (the New Zealand falcon)
- $50 Note: Kōkako (an endangered wattlebird)
- $100 Note: Mohua (yellowhead)
What other Animals Live in New Zealand?
Other animals that live in New Zealand include marine mammals, some of which can only be found off the coast of New Zealand. You can find Hector’s dolphins, sea lions, beaked whales and New Zealand fur seals. Besides the rare beaked whales some of the whales that live in New Zealand include humpback whales, blue whales, sperm whales and southern right whales (also called Tohorā).
The only land mammal native to New Zealand is the bat. Long-tailed bats can be found on the mainland and on a few of the islands whereas short-tailed bats are less common and have a limited range. When it comes to lizards, New Zealand has geckos, like the tautuku, orange-spotted and Hura te as geckos, and skinks like the Northern grass skink, ornate skink and rockhopper skink (they can jump!). You can also find crayfish, frogs and snails. Such a wide range of animals all living in one beautiful country.
How Did the Moa Birds of New Zealand Go Extinct?
Moa were related to kiwi as another flightless bird that used to live in New Zealand. They were quite a bit bigger than kiwi, with some closer to the size of modern day emu. It is believed that there were nine different species of moa including the enormous 12 foot tall, 500 pound Dinornis robustus. Humans settled in New Zealand around 1300 and began hunting the moa and it only took a window of a hundred+ years to wipe out the species. By 1445 it is recorded to have gone extinct. Now conservationists are on a mission to protect many of the endangered animals that live on New Zealand. Remember, some of these animals are endemic to New Zealand and can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Even the beloved kiwi must be closely monitored to be sure that future generations can enjoy the national bird of New Zealand.
- 6 Extinct Flightless Birds from New Zealand
- Are there Snakes in New Zealand?
- The 10 Most Endangered Species in the World and How you can Help
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Jason Magerkorth
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- Department of Conservation | Te Papa Atawhai, Available here: https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/birds/birds-a-z/kiwi/tokoeka/
- Department of Conservation | Te Papa Atawhai, Available here: https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/marine-mammals/
- iStudent Complaints, Available here: https://www.istudent.org.nz/resources/people-and-birds-bank-notes-nz-why-are-they-famous-and-celebrated-new-zealand-explanation
- Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/kiwi-bird