A brown kiwi
© WWF New Zealand

The kiwi is New Zealand's most iconic native species.

The small, flightless birds adorn everything from our one dollar coin to our Air Force. But they need our help. 

Kiwi are a family of birds endemic to New Zealand. There are five species of kiwi: Great Spotted, Okarito Brown (Rowi), Tokoeka, Little Spotted and North Island Brown.

Almost everything about them is unique. Over millions of years, kiwi adapted to live in an environment unlike anywhere else on Earth, free from the threats of mammals. It's pretty safe to say the kiwi is a biological oddity.

Learn more about kiwi here.

© WWF New Zealand
The spread of the kiwi population in New Zealand
© WWF New Zealand

Why are they so special?

Many experts believe that kiwi evolved to occupy a habitat and lifestyle that elsewhere in the world would be filled by a mammal. This means that as they evolved, kiwi developed features we would associate more with other warm-blooded animals than with bird species.

Unlike most birds, they have a highly developed sense of smell and touch, and strong hearing. Where bird skeletons are typically light and filled with air sacs to enable flight, the kiwi has heavy, muscular legs that make up almost a third of their weight: perfect for a life spent on the ground.

Kiwis dig burrows for their nests, something we associate more with rats and other ground-based mammals than any birds. And the eggs they lay are enormous, nearly 20% of their bodyweight, proportionally one of the largest of any bird. Kiwi chicks emerge from their eggs with full plumage and are capable of feeding themselves. 

Did you know?

Kiwi are closely related to the emu, cassowary, moa and ostrich.

Kiwi eat small stones that grind up food in their gizzard.

Kiwi have a good sense of smell which they use to find grubs and worms underground.

What's happening to our kiwi?

Before settlers arrived, there were estimated to be millions of kiwi in New Zealand. By 1998, the population had plummeted to fewer than 100,000 birds, and by 2008 that figure had dropped further to about 70,000.

All species of kiwi are threatened, the rarest of these is Rowi, a species found only in a small area of the South Island which number less than 400 individuals. 

A life spent on the ground carries with it many risks, and the characteristics that make our kiwi unique have also put it in danger of extinction. As many as 95% of kiwi chicks born outside of pest controlled areas do not survive past six months. The biggest threats to kiwi are introduced predators such as dogs and stoats, loss of habitat, and us.

© Helen Moodie
Kiwi chick at Whangarei Heads
© Helen Moodie
A kiwi chick at Rainbow Springs Wildlife Park
© Rainbow Springs Wildlife Park

What WWF is doing

WWF-New Zealand's community funding, through our Habitat Protection Fund, supports community led conservation projects to protect kiwi.

We partner with community-led groups with the expertise to protect kiwi.

We have supported community groups in translocations (moving kiwi from one part of the country to another), developing breeding facilities, predator eradication and employing kiwi rangers. 

WWF has funded more than $345,000 towards kiwi conservation and recovery projects over the past 15 years

Find out more about some of the community-led conservation organisations we've funded for kiwi activities:

Otanewainuku Kiwi Trust 
Mahinepua-Radar Hill Landcare Group Inc.
Friends of Flora 
East Taranaki Environment Trust 
Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust 
Project Kiwi Trust 

Saving kiwi in East Taranaki

Watch our video about East Taranaki Environment Trust's work to protect kiwi