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Birds: North Island Brown Kiwi

Hanging out at the nature preserve located below the gondola chair lift in Queenstown, New Zealand, we finally saw a living exhibit of this Island Country mascot, the Kiwi. Tracy and I were with our daughter, Kathleen, who was enjoying six months in this Antipodean region.

Our tour of the Queenstown Nature Preserve was a great excursion for all of us, especially for the lessons we learned about these amazing, near-wingless birds. We could have gone on bungee jumping trips, hang gliding sails, or gorged on “FergBurgers,” but we chose to enter the Preserve and see the KIWI’s for ourselves.

We walked into the darkened Kiwi viewing room, which had daytime-changed-to-night for the sake of us human visitors. Once our eyes adjusted to the dark, a reddish light came on. The red light made the nocturnal animals visible to our sight but not to their eyes. We saw male, female, and immature Kiwis scrounging for food. Their long bills poked the ground every few inches as it scurried about the glassed cage in search of grubs and insects. And when the smaller male Kiwi mounted the one female and humped away for a few fierce seconds, Kathleen and I knew we were witnessing them mating. Tracy was not sure what they were doing.

Kiwis, once fertilized, lay a single egg a year. The small annual number did not sound extraordinary, but then we learned the rest of the story. Both male and females share in the incubation of their one egg. And although the female Kiwi is a bit smaller than the typical chicken, she lays an egg that is six times larger than a chicken egg. To put the Kiwi egg size in perspective, an ostrich lays an egg which is about 2% of the female ostrich’s body weight. The average human live birth is a child about 5% of the mother’s body weight. The Kiwi egg, on the other hand, is 15 – 20% of the female’s body weight. Now that is a labor of love!

The survival rate of these iconic birds is more precarious than I had imagined. We heard of the heroic efforts by bird lovers to save these nocturnal birds from extinction. Their main predators are humans, followed by opossum and dogs. We heard the story of one pet dog who was off-leash for a week and had killed over 500 wild Kiwi in a local park. What a tragedy!

We bought a Kiwi Christmas ornament, because some of the proceeds from the purchase went to help protect these interesting and unique birds.

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