Having been in the land of kiwi (and Kiwis) for several weeks now, I decided that it was time to see one in person. They are nocturnal birds, so even though I had been hiking through kiwi habitat several times, I would never have spotted one. There are five species of kiwi, some quite endangered and existing only in sanctuaries, and all protected. Short of taking a guided night hike (which is on my list of things to do) in a sanctuary like Zealandia, viewing captive kiwi in a zoo is the only option. Fortunately, the Wellington Zoo is a short bus ride away, so I joined the flood of parents with kids in their final days of summer vacation to check out one of the strangest birds ever.
The kiwi exhibit is built to resemble the ruins of a”bush house,” showing some of the equipment that was used in the past to clear kiwi habitat. It gets progressively darker as you move through, until you arrive at a gateway hung with dog leashes – a reminder that loose dogs are a threat to flightless kiwi.
The kiwi habitat itself was lit dimly with red bulbs, and the effect on the children entering was to immediately reduce them to excited whispers. On the other side of a low fence, rounded, shadowy shapes moved, their long, thin bills probing under leaf litter. Kiwi are omnivores, eating all kinds of small invertebrates, some plant material, fungi, and even eels, but their favorite food is worms. “Chickens!” whispered one small child near me, and his older sister corrected him: “No, kiwi.” “But they are big like chickens!” he insisted. “Kiwi,” she repeated. “Like fuzzy baby chicks with long noses,” he said. I took no pictures of the birds themselves, but that description was quite accurate. It was the perfect search image to keep in mind for when I do get to go kiwi-ing some night.
Near the exhibit was an incubation viewing box with a plexiglas top. Inside was one impossibly, unbelievably enormous egg. The kiwi itself is the size of a small bantam chicken, but its egg is six times what a bird that size would normally lay. Here is a good explanation: https://www.audubon.org/news/why-kiwis-egg-so-big
There was another kiwi egg mystery as well. In this photo, there is a piece of spaghetti lying on the crumpled paper near the egg. It has a specific purpose. Any guesses?