Kiwi Spotting Stewart Island - Day 5

It's estimated that 68,000 Kiwi birds of all varieties are left in the whole of New Zealand, and of these 15,000 live on Stewart Island. Having spotted our Kiwi on Ulva Island, we wanted more, so we decided that we would still do the evening Kiwi-Spotting organized tour to the remote Patterson Inlet. This will be an adventure and also an opportunity to learn about this most secretive of birds.

Start time is 8:00 PM, starting with an interesting talk by a wildlife expert and a video presentation about the life and habits of the Kiwi bird. They are endangered, but some great work is being done to create more safe habitats for them. They are a nocturnal animal although the Stewart Island variety are unique in that they live close to beaches where they can feed on small beach insects and they are sometimes spotted venturing out to feed during the day (but as you know, we knew that) 

Our boat then departs for the 1-hour trip out to our "hunting" grounds, calling to see some seals and yellow-eyed penguins on the beach at one of the islands we pass on the way. By now it's dark and on arrival we are issued with a torch and given strict instructions by our guide about appropriate Kiwi-spotting behaviour. Total quiet is the overriding message. Then we set off down the dark forested track to cross a small peninsula and the beach where Kiwi are known to live, so a reasonable level of fitness is required.

We then split into 2 groups and started scouting along the beach you see in the photo above. For our group, no success, but the other group spots two and got up close. We could tell they had succeeded because when we met up again, they had that big smile on their faces, just like we had earlier in the day! 

Despite this disappointment for some of us, it was still a wonderful experience; we agreed that we had never been to a place that felt so remote, a place where you look to the south, knowing that the next piece of land is the frozen continent of Antarctic. No light pollution here, in fact there is literally not one single light to be seen. 

At about 1 AM we arrive back at the town of Oban and before returning to our accommodation, those of us who had failed to spot a Kiwi were given a full refund; a nice touch by the organizers, Real Journeys, to end our day


For those interested in endangered species like the Kiwi, here are some more details from New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DOC)

There are about 68,000 kiwi left in all of New Zealand. We are losing 2% of our unmanaged kiwi every year –that's around 20 per week.

Kiwi are mostly nocturnal. They are most commonly forest dwellers, making daytime dens and nests in burrows, hollow logs or under dense vegetation.

Kiwi are the only bird to have nostrils at the end of their very long bill. Their nostrils are used to probe in the ground, sniffing out invertebrates to eat, along with some fallen fruit.

They also have one of the largest egg-to-body weight ratios of any bird. The egg averages 15% of the female's body weight (compared to 2% for the ostrich).

Females are larger than males (up to 3.3 kg and 45 cm). Kiwi are long-lived, and depending on the species live for between 25 and 50 years.


Kiwi are ratites. The closest relatives to kiwi today is the elephant bird from Madagascar. They are also related to emus and cassowaries of Australia, and the extinct moa of New Zealand.

There are five species of kiwi. All are classified as Threatened or At Risk.


Adult kiwi usually mate for life, and are strongly territorial. Depending on the species, the male kiwi does most of the egg incubation. There is usually one clutch of one egg per year from June to December. Brown kiwi often have two clutches of two eggs.

Chicks hatch fully feathered after a long incubation of 70-85 days, emerge from the nest to feed at about five days old and are never fed by their parents. Juveniles grow slowly, taking three to five years to reach adult size.

Threat status

All kiwi species are threatened with extinction, but to varying degrees. The rowi and the Haast tokoeka are our most threatened kiwi, due to their small population size and limited number of populations.

The brown kiwi, great spotted kiwi, and the Fiordland and Rakiura (Stewart Island)forms of tokoeka are 'nationally vulnerable', the third highest threat ranking in the New Zealand Threat Classification System; and the little spotted kiwi is classified as “at risk (recovering)”.

Threats to kiwi

The biggest threat to kiwi chicks is stoats, and to adult kiwi, dogs.

Introduced mammals can also have a wider impact on kiwi. Competition by rodents for similar food appears to result in delayed growth of kiwi chicks and therefore increased pressure on the overall population at some sites. Rats are fodder for stoats – when there are lots of rats, there are lots of stoats.

In areas where we do the work to control predators, kiwi numbers are increasing. On the Coromandel, for example, the kiwi population is doubling every decade thanks to intensive predator control.

Other threats include habitat modification/loss and motor vehicle strike, as well as the small population size and distribution of some species. New avian disease and parasites that may reach New Zealand present a further threat to kiwi populations.

Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron • Nov 15, 2016