How did the kiwi get to New Zealand?

The kiwi is much more than just a native New Zealand bird, it’s an iconic symbol of the nation. Although the kiwi is a bird, kiwi are not able to fly. This isn’t unusual in New Zealand, which is home to more species of flightless birds than anywhere else in the world. The unique location and history of the country has meant historically birds didn’t need to fly to avoid land-based predators, they could happily forage and nest on the ground.

The fact the kiwi could only really have evolved in New Zealand, combined with their quirky characteristics, makes them the perfect symbol to represent the unique characters you’ll meet on a trip to New Zealand.

Although kiwi can’t fly there is one way for them to get up in the air, as Pete the Kiwi found in the video below.

The great kiwi mystery

One mystery that still baffles experts is how the kiwi found its way to New Zealand in the first place. The kiwi’s closest relatives live 1000s of kilometres away in Madagascar and Australia, which is a long journey for a flightless bird travel. Although the kiwi is a strong swimmer, it’s not likely to have paddled all the way.

There’s a few theories as to how the kiwi did it, it might have used stepping stones or small islands that have long since sunk back into the water. It could also have been that kiwi evolved from a New Zealand ancestor that lived millions of years ago, before the many islands on Earth broke away from the main land masses that exist today.

However, one of the strongest theories is that the many years ago an ancestor of the kiwi could still fly, and that over the centuries this ability was lost due to there being no ground-based predators to attack the kiwi.

Kiwi facts

You can find more facts on the New Zealand Department of Conservation website.

  • There are 68,000 kiwi left in New Zealand.
  • The unmanaged kiwi population is declining at a rate of 2% a year because of predators introduced by humans.
  • Kiwi usually live to between 25 and 50 years of age.
  • They are the only bird with nostrils at the tip of the beak, meaning they have a great sense of smell.
  • Their powerful legs make up a third of their bodyweight, making them fast runners.

If you want to learn even more about the kiwi, one option is to fly to New Zealand where you can see them in the wild or in captivity at the many zoos and ecological centres. You can also learn more about this amazing bird and efforts to save them on the Kiwis for Kiwi website.