Finally seeing a Kiwi

Kiwi birds are the national symbol of New Zealand so it’s pretty natural to want to see one while you are here but they are notoriously difficult to see in the wild. They are nocturnal, easily scared and there’s not that many of them left. As a result we weren’t really expecting to see them in the wild but just as our trip was coming to an end and we were beginning to wonder if Kiwis were a myth, we managed to see some in captivity.

In Rotorua there is a nature park called Rainbow Springs where you can not only see Kiwis but it is also a breeding and hatching centre. We went on the Kiwi encounter “behind the scenes” tour which would give us the opportunity to see Kiwi eggs and chicks.

Our tour guide was quite amusing with his commentary but basically left us with the impression that Kiwis are really stupid birds. Whilst I wouldn’t wish extinction on anything I can’t understand why Kiwi birds still exist. They are a strange cross between a mammal and a bird. Apparently they can swim although they are flightless. Their eyesight is poor in the dark although they are nocturnal and they are meant to be pretty lazy. They just don’t seem to have shown any form of adaptation so it is little wonder they are endangered given you expect to see the survival of the fittest in the wild.

Firstly we went to see some incubating eggs and could just about make out the beak of a chick that had been born a couple of days previously at the back of one of the boxes. We then went through to where the Kiwi chicks are looked after and saw one being fed and two being weighed. Apparently they hate being handled so they try to only handle them once a day, usually for feeding as they won’t eat the food they are given otherwise. I was surprised that this was all taking place in a really bright room given that we had already been told that they don’t like the light. The Kiwi chicks were incredibly cute but I have to admit that they looked quite scared.

From here we moved back out into the public area to see the adult Kiwis in their nocturnal house. The female is apparently 40 years old and although it has lived at the facility for a significant amount of time is still aggressive towards the keepers. We could see a Kiwi bird in each of the enclosures and I was surprised to see how active they were but also quite concerned. One of the Kiwis was running backwards and forwards into a corner and kept seeming to hit its head off a wall. The other was also running around and then stopped to stare at its audience and started making a noise. I’m not familiar with Kiwi birds so this could be normal behaviour but in any other animal I would say they were both showing signs of distress which was quite sad.

Kiwi birds are unlike anything else I’ve ever seen and are truly bizarre. Their run and call are how I imagine dinosaurs would be but they are really fluffy. I’m pleased that I got to see Kiwis before I left the country but I’m not sure about the circumstances in which I saw them.

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