Little spotted kiwi are the smallest of the five kiwi species, weighing only 1kg and are the size of a bantam hen. Their plumage is soft and brownish grey mottled with white ‘spots’ - giving them their english name. They were once common throughout New Zealand, but they became extinct on the North Island by the 1870s and a few decades later on the South Island. Today, only about 1500 survive, living mainly on Kapiti Island just north of Wellington.
Kiwi are flightless, nocturnal birds, emerging from their burrows after dark to forage noisily along the forest floor and sniff out worms and insects. Their nostrils are at the base of their bill and give the kiwi a superior sense of smell that makes up for its poor eyesight. Kiwi have been described as ‘honorary mammals’ because of their hair-like feathers, long tactile whiskers at the base of their bill, and their marrow-filled bones. Little spotted kiwi are fiercely territorial, however due to their small size stand no chance against dogs, cats, and stoats. Their call is loud and travels easily through the forest. Males produce a long, high-pitched, repeating trill, while females give a slower and more low pitched trill. Male calls are heard more often than females, but sometimes a male and female pair can be heard calling back and forth in a duet.
Māori call the little spotted kiwi the ‘kiwi pukupuku’, named for their round-bellied appearance. Kiwi are also sometimes called ‘te manu huna a Tāne’ - the hidden bird of Tāne, the god of the forest.
ZEALANDIA is home to New Zealand’s second largest population of little spotted kiwi and the only wild population on the mainland. Two introductions took place in 2000 and 2001, when a total of 40 birds were transferred from Kapiti Island. A population survey in 2010 showed the population had already grown to around 100 birds, and is now currently estimated at more than 140!