New Zealand has more species of flightless birds – both living and extinct – than any other country

Flightless - Header Image

They include kiwi, kakapo, takahe, penguin, weka, moa, three flightless wrens and two adzebills.

No mammal predators

One reason New Zealand has so many flightless birds is that, before humans arrived about 1000 years ago, there were no land mammals that preyed on birds. Predators were other birds, such as the laughing owl, eagle, goshawk and falcon. With no predators sniffing them out, kiwi and the other flightless birds could safely forage from the forest floor, living and nesting on the ground.

Since people arrived in the kiwi’s land, the forest floor has become a place of threat and peril for all New Zealand’s flightless birds.

Saving energy

Flying takes a lot of energy. With the ground being so safe, birds could save energy by walking.There is debate about whether kiwi evolved from a flightless ancestor, or lost its ability to fly. But it does have a very small vestigial wing, with a tiny cat-like claw on the end. This stumpy wing gave rise to the species’ name – Apteryx – meaning ‘wingless’.