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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones

Birding On My Own
Australia &
New Zealand 2002
Emmalee Tarry
Revised 2015

Trip Reports

Table of Contents

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Chapter 20

The  Kiwi

Three Species of Kiwi
Amazing Video
Hokitika Kiwi House
Bay of Islands
Aroha Island
My Kiwi
Stewart Island Kiwi Tours

Kiwi in a museum display

Brown Kiwi in a museum display with an egg.

Three Species Kiwi
When New Zealanders refer to themselves as Kiwis they are not referring to a little green fruit, but to the flightless bird called the Kiwi.
I have seen three penguins, the Wrybill, both Northern and Southern Royal Albatross. What I really need to see or at least hear to complete my trip is a Kiwi.

The Kiwi is another member of the Ratite family of birds that includes: Cassowary, Emu, Ostrich, Rhea of South America and the extinct Moa.
Flightless with only rudimentary wings and tailless, Kiwis are found only in New Zealand. Like other Ratite, the male incubates the egg and takes care of the young birds. The Kiwi uses its long bill with nostrils on the end to probe the mud for insects and tiny crustaceans. It is active only at night. The egg is very large for such a small bird and can be up to 1/4 the total body weight of the female.

There are at least 3 species: Brown Kiwi, Little Spotted Kiwi, and Great Spotted Kiwi. Some ornithologist divide the Brown Kiwi into several subspecies.

When you set out on a hunt for a rare bird remember to always put the survival of the species first.

An Amazing Video of two Kiwi fighting in broad daylight  from UTube
Many birders will have to be satisfied with a video of a Kiwi.  Here is a remarkable one.

Hokitika Kiwi House
If you really want to see and experience a Kiwi you like most New Zealanders will visit a Kiwi House. I have mentioned visiting a Kiwi House several times in this book. The really good news is that there is one at the zoo in San Diego. It is not well monitored and the day I was there people were going inside the dark house and lighting matches. If they do that you will not see the Kiwi. If they make any noise, you will not see the Kiwi. My advise is get there when the zoo opens and go directly to the Kiwi house. Good luck

My first Kiwi House was in Hokitika on the west coast of the south island. This Kiwi House is in a store front in downtown Hokitika. I parked on the street in front of the store and paid NZ$7 entrance fee.

A long video explains the biology of the Kiwi and why they are so endangered. One of the biggest threats are domestic dogs. Especially dangerous are dogs kept by pig hunters. One dog is known to have killed 500 Kiwi before it was stopped.

The display room is totally dark. The Kiwi are in a naturalized setting behind glass windows with dim red lights. It takes several minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness and some older people are unfortunately not able to see the birds at all. The birds may be in the back of the enclosure. Plan to spend some time waiting for them. At first I saw nothing, but then one of the birds walked right on the other side of the glass. I was the only one in the house at the time and of course I was very quiet.

If anyone taps on the glass or talks aloud the birds will move out of sight. This is strictly not allowed so you can report them if you can find an attendant. After a time I saw two birds in the first enclosure and a third bird in the enclosure on the other side of the room. They walked around probing the mud for food. It seemed very natural to me. I heard nothing from any of the birds. It is really the way to see the birds and I spent well over an hour watching. The Kiwi at Hokitika are the Great Spotted Kiwi

.I later visited a Kiwi House for Brown Kiwi at Mount Bruce and in the Whakarewarewa Thermal Area in Rotorua. I recommend that all birders visit at least one Kiwi House. This is where you will really be able to see the Kiwi feeding and moving. Of course this does not count as a wild bird.

The really good news is that the zoo in San Diego has a Kiwi house.  When I visited this house there were many people filing into the dark room and of course one guy was lighting matches.  After I chased him out I was able to get a glimpse of the Kiwi, but other people coming into the room were making too much noise.  I recomend if you go to the Balboa Park zoo get there when they open and ask directions to the Kiwi house immediately.,  By being the first visitor you will have a better chance of a sighting.

Bay of Islands
.My friend Tony Clarke who helped me find the Wrybill is heading to Aroha Island to check out the opportunities for seeing Kiwi there. I have about 5 days left in New Zealand and the Bay of Islands sounds like the best place to spend my time. From Miranda I drove north passing entirely through the city of Auckland during the morning rush hour. Getting though the city took an hour and half, but I arrived in Kirikeri about noon. I found the YHA and immediately drove out to Aroha Island to make arrangements to take their kiwi tour at 9 PM the next evening. The tour costs NZ$25.

I took a boat trip to "Hole in the Rock". This is one of over 100 islands in the Bay of Islands and a very popular tourist attraction. On the way we saw Bottlenose Dolphin, Gannets, Fluttering Shearwaters, and Flesh-footed Shearwater. The boat had a Maori tour guide who talked about the Maori coming to New Zealand by canoe. The boat actually goes into and through the hole in the rock. It was a fun tour.

Arhoa Island
Arhoa Island is about a 15 minute drive from the YHA in Kirikeri. There are accommodations here in cabins and camping is allowed. The time I was here, the accommodations were filled with a noisy school group here for a sailing class. You can also visit during the day and take the NZ$25 night time Kiwi tour.

Walking the tracks on the island by myself in the day time, I saw many California Quail, Tui, Grey Warbler, Fantail, and my one and only Barbary Dove. There are also many waders and shorebirds as you can see in the picture below.

Ahora Island Ahora Island sign

My Kiwi
I drove back to the island in the evening and met Greg and Tony for the walk. Greg provided us with torches (flashlights) covered with red paper. It was a beautiful warm evening. We heard a total of 5 birds calling as we walked the tracks for over an hour. Finally we got very close to a pair of birds. Kiwi have very big feet and make noise moving in the dry grass. With patience Greg was finally able to spotlight one female for a quick look. I was elated to be able to check off Brown Kiwi.

Stewart Island Kiwi Tours
Your best chance of seeing a wild Kiwi is at Stewart Island. There is a commercial boat tour from Oban ( this is where the ferry lands) to Ocean Beach. The tour goes every other night. If it has to be canceled because of rain, a make up trip goes the next night. If you manage to make a reservation to go on the trip, be sure to spend 2 nights on Stewart Island in case the trip the first night is cancelled.
The situation at Ocean Beach is unusual in that the Kiwis come out on the beach to feed at night where they can be clearly seen. The boat only take 15 people at a time and at popular times, the commercial tour groups seem to have it sewed up.I did not make reservations in advance mostly because I didn't know who to contact. There is not a good deal of information about where to see birds in New Zealand available. .There are birders who make a living bird guiding in New Zealand. They probably do a great job. They are not really friendly to anyone trying to do it on their own. (This was not true at the Lake Moeriki Lodge where the guide was happy to take me on his trip.)
If I were to do this trip again, I would work hard at making a firm reservation for the Stewart Island Kiwi Tour before leaving home and then plan my trip around that reservation. It was very frustrating to be on Stewart Island and unable to get on this tour and to get locked in a bathroom on top of everything else.

Tiritiri Matangi Kiwi
It is possible to spend the night in the YHA on Tiritiri Matangi. My friends Noel Mann and Don Sandee did that in the winter. You need to bring your sleeping bag and all your own food. Winter is perhaps not the best time to see or hear the Kiwi and they went empty-handed. There is a good chance of hearing the Kiwi in the summer and if you spend several nights wandering the trails you might get lucky and see one. Unfortunately you will not have an expert guide to help you find the bird as I did at Arhoa Island. If I ever go back to New Zealand and of course I very much want to return, I will try to spend several nights on the island.

Until you can make a big trip like this enjoy the Kiwi House at the San Diego Zoo. Lots of other good stuff there too.

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