Monday, September 16, 2013

Bird Watching

The Kiwi

One of the most important things to show American kids in New Zealand, are real live kiwis, just in case they think they are these:

Mmmm, kiwifruit. (Actinia chinesis)

...or something like this:

No, you may not eat a kiwi, they are very rare and highly protected. (It is one of my favorite kiwi pictures I've come across though.)

One of the best places in New Zealand to see a kiwi in action, is the Otorohanga Kiwihouse, which is about a 45 minute drive south of Hamilton.

Kiwi are nocturnal, so they are housed in a dark indoor enclosure, and it is not possible, nor permitted, to take your own photos, as flashes disturb the busy kiwis. So here is an image I found on the web:

We saw a Great Spotted Kiwi, which stands about 45-50cm (18-20") tall. That was the first thing that struck me when I first saw them again as an adult - they're big! And we saw a Brown Kiwi, which are a bit smaller. We also got to see 3 kiwi chicks. The other impressive thing for me are their massive, and powerful looking legs and feet. This picture does not capture that, you'll have to see them yourself sometime. It does have wings, but being flightless, they are barely there and not visible. They were pretty active stomping around tapping their beaks into the ground in search of insect snacks.

So there you have it, our national bird. The nickname for New Zealand citizens.

And here is the kiwi dollar, below (roughly US$.80 right now):

It's about the size of a US quarter.

Other Natives

New Zealand has no native mammals, except for a bat. So no natural predators for the birds that took to roaming the dense forest floors instead of the canopy. There a several flightless bird species, including a very large parrot, the Kakapo (too rare to be in the kiwi house). But there are many native bird species, including ones that fly. Here are some other native birds we saw at the Otorohanga Kiwi House.

Kereru (native pigeon)
New Zealand latest iconic bird is the Pukeko. There are some in the gully behind my parent's house, so I hope to get a picture of one soon, but even though we didn't see them at the Kiwi House, I couldn't leave them off this post:

They have massive powerful legs and claws too. They are about the size of a hen. The common name is swamp hen. They now adorn tourist knick-knacks as much as the kiwi.

Anyway, mission accomplished. The kids saw kiwis up close and in action. May they never say kiwi, when they mean kiwifruit again ;)