Well, today’s the day! You were all counting down until you could learn about another flightless bird species, right?
The Okarito Kiwi (Apteryx rowi) used to be classified as a subspecies of the North Island Brown Kiwi, but in 2003 it was described as its own species. It can only be found in the Okarito forest on the South Island of New Zealand. Its current population is right around 400 birds. The Okarito Kiwi is also called rowi, and they used to occupy both the North and South Islands. After European colonization of New Zealand and the introduction of predatory mammals where there previously were none, stoats in particular, their numbers were significantly reduced.
The Okarito Kiwi has more of a gray hue in its plumage, and its feathers are a little softer than other species of kiwi. Adults can weigh almost 6 pounds (2.7 kg), with females weighing slightly more than males. They are about 16 inches (40 cm) long. Their long, narrow bill is slightly curved downward, and like other kiwis the nostrils are situated at the far end of the bill. The Okarito Kiwi has large, tough feet.
The diet of the Okarito Kiwi consists primarily of insects, spiders, earthworms, snails and fruits. It is nocturnal, and will come out during the night to forage. Okarito Kiwis use their bills to tap on the ground, searching for food. They can stab their bill into the ground to snag insects and earthworms. The males communicate by making high-pitched whistles, while females’ whistles are lower-pitched.
Okarito Kiwis form monogamous mating pairs, and they breed between February and June, and like other kiwis, the egg takes up a huge amount of space in the female’s body. An Okarito Kiwi’s egg can weigh up to 25% of her body weight. Once the egg has been laid, the male and female take turns incubating it. Each of them shed feathers to make a brooding patch, to make the transfer of body heat more efficient. Incubation can take up to 90 days.
Okarito Kiwis are extremely long-lived. Their average life expectancy is 56 years, and some birds have been documented to reach 100 years of age. The Maori legend of how the kiwis came to lose their wings involves the king of the forest, Tanemahuta, who noticed that the insects that dwelt on the forest floor were consuming too much of the trees and animals. In order to protect the forest, he asked the king of the sky, Tanehokahoka, to speak to all the species of birds if they would be willing to come to the ground and never return to the treetops. Each of the birds refused to give up the sky except for the kiwi, who sacrificed its ability to fly in order to live on the forest floor and eat the insects. In gratitude, Tanehokahoka promised the kiwi that it would be the most beloved of all the birds.