Tuesday, February 24, 2009

NZ Day 21: Meeting a Kiwi Bird

Seeing free roaming kiwi birds is very unlikely. We weren't so lucky. Kiwis have become a highly endangered species since various animals, introduced over the last 200 years compete for their food source, steal their eggs, eat their chicks and kill adult birds as well.

In recent years the kiwi has become a national icon for New Zealand and there is quite a lot of activity going into protecting the few birds that are left. There is for example one program where people pick eggs out of kiwi nesting sites. The eggs are then put into an incubator. Once hatched, the chicks are equipped with a little transmitter and set free on an island without predators. After one year the grown birds are again captured on the island and brought back to their original site.

As my birthday project, we set out to at least see a captive kiwi. Meeting a kiwi in the flesh is not that easy since the birds are very shy and most active at night. After some research we decided to go to the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. They have a large kiwi house with a reversed day night cycle, making it quite likely to actually see a bird out and about.

As we came to the kiwi site there were panels advising us to be quiet and also to not touch the birds. So we went in, careful not the make any noise. It was quite dark inside the enclosure. At first I did not see a single bird. I was already thinking about leaving again when Regula caught sight of a first kiwi. It was busy foraging at the other end of the enclosure. It seemed quite aware of our presence and hid itself as soon as we made a sudden movement. As time went by, we saw more birds walking around in almost complete silence. They used their long beaks to burrow holes into the ground looking for food. Some did not seem bothered by us at all and came quite close to the walk way. They look enormously cuddly with their furry feathers and their round form. Too bad there were all these "Don't touch the Kiwi" panels, so I can only assume they must be at least as fluffy as the kiwi Regula got from a local arts shop the other day. I really hope the preservation efforts are successful so that some day, when we come back to New Zealand, we will see kiwis out in the forests again.

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