Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Great Spotted Kiwi

Did you know that there are actually five species of Kiwi, the national symbol of New Zealand? And that the largest of these is the Great Spotted Kiwi? Well now you do! This specific, nocturnal, species is currently listed as vulnerable, and is found in only a few forested, mountainous areas on the South Island.

(Image Source)
Great Spotted Kiwis (Apteryx haastii) have some rather interesting anatomical features. First off, females are actually larger than males, growing up to 20 inches in length, as opposed to 18, and weigh up to 7lbs, as opposed to 5. Like all Ratites, Great Spotted Kiwis are flightless. They have wings, but they are extremely small and lack the powerful breast muscles that allow for flight. To compensate, they have strong legs that allow them to move about quickly, and also allow them to attack with the ability to cause fatal wounds. Males use their feet to fight over territory, and the birds are even able to fend off mustelid predators with them as well.

The Great Spotted Kiwis, and the other four Kiwi species, are also unique in that they have nostrils at the very ends of their beaks rather than closer to the head. They have excellent senses of smell, which makes up for their rather poor eyesight. Their noses help them to track down food, which includes insects and fruit.

Great Spotted Kiwis mate for life, which might be as long as twenty years. Only one gigantic egg is laid, which weighs up to 15% of the female's body mass. It is incubated by both parents for 70 days. Chicks become self sufficient within only two weeks, but they stay by the nest for a month or so.

Once numerous across the South Island, Great Spotted Kiwis are now on a population decline. They evolved in an environment with few ground predators, so the introduction of dogs, cats, weasels and other invasive predators has led to a decrease in birds. Conservation measures are being taken to remove predators from the equation, but the total number of birds is now believed to be less than 22,000.

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