Kiwi experts are keen to dispel myths surrounding the kiwi, and there are a few.
To set the record straight:
- Kiwi do not use their beaks to fight
- Kiwi are feisty and aggressive
- Not a bird brain
- Fast movers
- There’s a bigger egg, from a smaller bird
- The great kiwi hoax
Kiwi do not use their beaks to fight
The kiwi’s beak is a finely tuned appendage, capable of detecting a few parts per million of scent. To use its beak to fight would be like you head-butting someone with your nose.
The kiwi’s main weapons are its powerful legs and sharp claws. Territorial fights are a jump and slash affair, and can inflict fatal injuries.
Kiwi are feisty and aggressive
Some people think kiwi are timid and shy – in fact, they are super strong, territorial and can be extremely bad tempered.
Adult birds use their razor-sharp claws as weapons and a couple of slashes can draw blood.
Conservation workers often bear the scars from putting their hand down a kiwi burrow to check for eggs or chicks.
Kiwi researcher, Dr John McLennan says when he imitates a kiwi’s call, a bird may charge the intruder: ‘They sound like a deer charging, almost exploding, through the dark. Standing there, it’s quite intimidating – even for us.’
One great spotted kiwi in North Westland, called Pete, is legendary. ‘We’ve just got to walk into his territory and he comes catapulting in for a hit-and-run. He belts you in the leg and then runs off into the undergrowth.’
Not a bird brain
Kiwi are capable of learning quickly. Once a bird has been tricked into capture with tapes of kiwi calls or whistles, it is hard to fool a second time. Dr Hugh Robertson, kiwi researcher, says a kiwi remembers its bad experience for at least five years. Birds approach the tape recorder and call to challenge it, then circle the machine at a distance as if they are trying to get down wind to check if the intruder is a real kiwi.
In the wild, kiwi are big travellers, superbly adapted to their natural habitat, agile and quick-moving. A bird can cover his or her territory – possibly the size of 60 football fields – in a single night. And, unlike a football field, not all the ground is flat. If alarmed, kiwi can run as fast as a person.
There’s a bigger egg, from a smaller bird
Although the female kiwi has to cope with an enormous egg that equals about 20% of her body mass, she is not the most heavily burdened female in the bird world. Small seabirds, such as storm petrels, have proportionately bigger eggs – up to 30% of their weight – and they have to fly with it on board.
The great kiwi hoax
In 1813, when the first kiwi skin was displayed in England, people thought it a hoax; a crazy stitched-together skin from a number of different creatures.